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March 26, 2015 standard

Certainly this past election cycle turned out awfully for the American Federation of Teachers. From Andrew Cuomo’s successful re-election as New York Governor in spite of the unwillingness of the union’s Empire State affiliate to back him, to successful re-election campaigns by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, and Michigan’s Rick Snyder, most of AFT’s effort to stem the decline of political influence over education policy (along with that of the National Education Association) largely amounted to nothing.

But the nation’s largest teachers’ union did manage to score a major victory in Pennsylvania, where the union and its state affiliate poured $732,400 into Tom Wolf’s successful campaign to unseat Tom Corbett as Keystone State governor. That spend, along with the additional $2 million spent by the AFT in Pennsylvania on behalf of its units there, has yielded significant benefits, especially for the union’s Philadelphia local, which is trying to justify its existence.

This included Wolf’s move earlier this month to shunt aside Bill Green as head of the state-controlled board overseeing Philadelphia’s traditional district weeks after it approved the opening of five new charter schools opposed by the union, as well as the appointment in January of Pedro Rivera, a former mandarin for the AFT’s Philly unit, as the state’s chief school officer.

An even bigger win could come within the next four years if Wolf can convince the Republican-controlled legislature to effectively hand back control of Philly’s district either to an elected school board (which the AFT likely prefers) or, more-likely, into the hands of Philadelphia’s mayor. The latter possibility is one reason why the union, along with its City of Brotherly Love unit, is looking to throw its weight in this year’s race to succeed the termed-out Michael Nutter as mayor.

The latest move by AFT came Wednesday when Forward Philadelphia, an outfit backed by the AFT and some of the progressive groups it has co-opted, launched an ad campaign for Jim Kenney, a city councilman who just recently tossed his hat into the ring for the Democratic mayoral nomination. As in most big cities, winning the Democratic nod essentially secures victory in the general election come November. Kenney has already won the backing of the AFT and its local, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, thanks to taking such stances favorable to its interests such as planning to push for a moratorium on charter school expansion and backing Wolf’s plans to hand off control of the traditional district to an elected school board the union can easily control.

Kenney’s willingness to basically do whatever AFT wants ensures that the union will spend plenty on his behalf. This includes much of the $697,240.05 PFT’s political action committee already has in its coffers as of last year, as well as the dollars the AFT’s state affiliate can deploy. More importantly, there are the vast resources the national AFT will put into Kenney’s campaign. After all, AFT’s 527 operation, the Solidarity Fund, still has $530,037 in its coffers, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which is more than enough to fund a string of ad blitzes; the union’s political action committee also has $2.7 million left after its big spend last year on congressional, state, and local campaigns.

You can also expect AFT to use the dues it often forcibly collects from teachers to support Kenney’s election effort. This will including spending big on hosting events at ritzy hotels such as the Sheraton Downtown (where the union hosted three events to the tune of $142,129 in 2013-2014, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor). Weingarten will also make appearances in the city on behalf of Kenney in the days before Election Day as she did in Michigan and other places last year. [Whether or not her presence will do anything other than turn people off is another story entirely.]

To cover all the bases, AFT will also pour even more money into its vassals on the ground. This includes ACTION United, the so-called grassroots group which collected $49,120 from AFT last fiscal year for serving as an ally of the union’s Philadelphia local in its efforts against the financially-strapped district to keep it from closing half-empty schools and overhaul how it compensates teachers; and Philadelphia Student Union, which picked up $20,000 from the union and whose board includes Anissa Weinraub, a PFT union leader. As seen this week with Philadelphia Forward, you can expect AFT to prop up other progressive groups in order to drum up voters on Kenney’s behalf.

If Kenney manages to win office, AFT could clean up even better than it has from backing Wolf’s campaign. Unlike Nutter, who strongly backed reform efforts undertaken by the traditional district and didn’t oppose state control, Kenney would likely work closely with Wolf on making the union’s goals a reality. Even if the state ends up handing the district over to some form of mayoral control, Kenney will likely be as pliant to the AFT’s demands as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Anything to keep charters, which already serve 30 percent of Philadelphia’s school-aged children, from increasing enrollment (and costing the AFT local those precious union dues).

If the AFT’s Philadelphia local has its way, Kenney would also have help from the candidates it is backing for seats on the city council. This includes Sherrie Cohen, the scion of a political family, and Helen Gym, who has long sparred with reformers in the city (and has won the admiration of once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch); both are running for two of five at-large council seats. Even under a mayoral control scenario, AFT could be in position to work councilmembers to support its local’s aims to neuter systemic reform.

Whether Kenney actually succeed Nutter as Philadelphia Mayor remains an open question. The aspirant finds himself running against Lynn Abraham, the city’s former district attorney, whose tough-on-crime reputation (and nickname of Queen of Death) resonates strongly with citizens tired of Nutter’s failures on this and other aspects of quality of life. Abraham refuses to oppose removing the district from state control and, if anything, would prefer mayoral control over an elected board. [She is also neutral on the matter of expanding charters.]

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today, a poll taken by Abraham’s campaign shows Kenney trailing her by 16 percentage points. Certainly you must take such polls with a hunk of salt; after all, the Democratic primary won’t be held until May. But in a crowded field like this, Abraham’s name recognition makes it difficult for Kenney to win.

There’s also State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, whose strong and valiant efforts on expanding school choice and charters ensures that he will be backed by school reformers and charter school advocates both in and out of the city. In fact, the possibility of Williams winning office — and his declaration that he wants mayoral control for the traditional district — is one reason why AFT is working overtime on Kenney’s behalf.

Williams also has the backing of public- and private-sector unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, and the Transportation Workers Union’s Local 234. While Kenney can claim AFT backing as well as that of the Service Employees International Union’s City of Brotherly Love local, Williams’ support from unions saps much-needed support away from Kenney to the dismay of Weingarten and Philadelphia local boss Jerry Jordan. That Williams is also black — a big issue in one of the nation’s most racially-divided cities (one still recovering from the legacy of the notorious Frank Rizzo) — also hurts Kenney’s chances.

For reformers, who haven’t paid nearly as much attention to the Philadelphia mayoral race as they should, it’s time to pay attention to AFT’s machinations. Especially since the City of Brotherly Love’s children (as well as their parents and other taxpayers) need systemic reform more than ever.

Featured photo: Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jim Kenney (far right behind AFT local boss Jerry Jordan) is a key player in the teachers’ union’s bid to stop systemic reform in the City of Brotherly Love.

March 25, 2015 standard

As a candidate for Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner promised to address the Land of Lincoln’s virtually-bankrupt defined-benefit pensions. So far, he has at least put some effort on that front. But it will be all for naught if Rauner and state legislators force the pensions — especially the Teachers Retirement System — to provide honest numbers of the extent of their insolvencies.

Last month, as part of the proposed budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the private equity player-turned-politician introduced a plan in which so-called Tier 1 employees — or teachers and state employees on the payroll before the passage of the Senate Bill 1 pension reform bill last year — could volunteer remove themselves out of one of the state’s pensions and into defined-contribution plans; as part of the deal, workers would get a lump-sum payment equaling what they would get out of the pension — essentially a version of the cash-balancing approach companies have used to transition employees out of their defined-benefit pensions — that would go into the defined-contribution account.

As you can expect, Rauner’s plan hasn’t gone down well with the NEA’s Illinois Education Association and the AFT’s Illinois Federation of Teachers. Through the coalition We Are One Illinois, the two unions (along with other public-sector unions such as the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) have already managed to get a state court judge to halt implementation of S.B. 1, the modest series of pension changes successfully pushed by Rauner’s predecessor, Pat Quinn. [The case is now before the Land of Lincoln’s Supreme Court, whose members are also covered by a pension that will eventually be targeted by reforms similar to S.B. 1 and thus, are essentially burdened by conflict of interest.] The suit, along with efforts by the unions to force the Democrat-controlled legislature to oppose the Republican governor’s proposal, essentially make Rauner’s effort more difficult than it should be.

Rauner’s plan could still be passed in some form by the legislature. After all, State Senate President John Cullerton was responsible for making S.B. 1 a reality. There’s also the presence of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who as I noted today in an American Spectator column, is battling against public-sector unions such as AFT’s Second City local to solve the municipality’s equally-unenviable pension woes.

But as with so many pension reform plans, Rauner’s proposal will only work if it is based on realistic assessments of the state’s public pension insolvencies. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with TRS, which accounts for half of the Land of Lincoln’s $111 billion in (officially-reported) pension shortfalls. But as revealed by Dropout Nation‘s analysis of TRS’ comprehensive annual financial report, it is still less-than-candid about its true fiscal condition.

TRS officially reports that it is insolvent to the tune of $62 billion in 2013-2014; based on officially-reported numbers, this is a 10 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. But as readers know by now, the official numbers don’t represent reality. For one, this leaves out $3.7 billion in investment gains made during the fiscal year, all but 20 percent of the gains accounted for by TRS because of smoothing, an actuarial trick the state forced the pension to adopt six years ago. This allows the pension to effectively hide investment gains and losses under the guise of keeping the volatility pensions experience with investments from wreaking havoc on state and district budgets. As a result, taxpayers and policymakers aren’t getting a full picture of the pension’s insolvency.

The bigger problem is that TRS is using overly inflated assumptions of investment growth over time. The pension assumes that investments will grow by 7.5 percent every year. Certainly, this is a tad less dishonest than the eight percent rate of return the pension assumed in previous years. But the rate is still inflated by a country mile. TRS’ 10-year rate of return on investments is just 7.3 percent — and that’s only thanks to the bull market of the last two years (which helped overcome the losses of the last decade’s global financial meltdown). In fact, TRS admits that the actuarial value of its assets increased by a mere 23.7 percent (or an average growth rate of 2.4 percent a year) between 2005 and 2014; even if you just stick to fair market value, TRS’ assets have only increased by 34.4 percent (or an average annual rate of 3.4 percent) within that time.

As you readers know, using overly-inflated assumed rates of return are problematic because pensions can report insolvencies as being lower than they actually. During good times, when the stock and bond markets are performing stellar, pensions can claim that investments can cover shortfalls. This leads politicians to abandon all fiscal prudence by increasing annuity payments and reducing contributions paid by states, districts, and teachers in the hopes that Wall Street will cover the shortchanging. During periods such as the recent economic malaise, pensions can simply continue assuming that the markets will cover those insolvencies some day; because rates of return are key in determining shortfalls, a high rate of return gooses up the value of assets even if isn’t reality.

To get to the true level of TRS’ insolvency, Dropout Nation uses a version of a technique developed by Moody’s Investors Service, which assumes a more-realistic 5.5 percent rate of a return. [Moody’s bases its rate of return on the Citibank Pension Liability Index, which is based on the yield for AA-rated corporate bonds.] Based on the calculation, TRS’ true insolvency is likely $78 billion, or 27 percent more than officially-reported. When compared to the likely levels of insolvency calculated by Dropout Nation last year, TRS’ insolvency increased by 2.6 percent over the previous year. [The increase would have been even higher if not for the pension’s move to reduce its assumed rate of return.]

If Illinois state government was forced to pay down the insolvency over a 17-year period of amortization, taxpayers and teachers would have to contribute an additional $4.6 billion to eliminate TRS’ insolvency. This is more than double the $4.5 billion poured into the pension in 2013-2104. This would also hit hard Illinois’ already-strapped budget. If the state paid an additional $3.5 billion in contributions in 2013-2014, the percentage of the state budget dedicated to TRS would increase from 3.7 percent to 7.7 percent.

As Dropout Nation noted last year, state legislators along with Rauner need accurate numbers on TRS’ pension woes because even more Baby Boomers are heading into retirement than in previous years. Some 6,443 teachers covered by the pension retired in 2013-2014, 4.2 percent more than the average of 6,182 who have left classrooms in the past decade. With each retiree collecting annual annuities of $48,339 a year, TRS will have to pay out at least an additional $299 million a year.

None of this, by the way, even accounts for the three percent annual cost-of-living increases that TRS must pay out, which essentially means that a retiree can collect an annuity that it 30 percent higher than when they first retired; S.B. 1 put an end to those increases, but thanks to a state court ruling invalidating the plan late last year, those out-of-control raises continue to increase the pension’s insolvency.

When a pension system is so terrible for both teachers and taxpayers that its executive director admits it publicly and bluntly, it is time for a governor and state legislature to scrap the entire system altogether. This can be done constitutionally. Illinois is required to provide workers with retirement benefits, but it can be done in better ways than it does now.

With the We Are One coalition suit complicating matters, Rauner has no easy solution for this crisis. Any step he and legislators take must be bolder than those taken by Quinn in previous years. This includes wrestling control of the boards of TRS and other state pensions from public-sector unions; figuring out how to end the cost-of-living increases that are fiscally senseless; and requiring teachers to pay more into their retirements than the 21 cents of every dollar they current contribute. Rauner must also force legislators to stop making deals with teachers’ unions such as one contained in a 2007 pension bill that allowed AFT affiliate lobbyist David Piccioli to garner a pension despite having just spent one day working in a classroom as a substitute teacher.

At the same time, Rauner should scrap his current plan and embrace an approach touted by Dropout Nation as well as by pension researchers such as Josh B. McGee of the John & Laura Arnold Foundation and Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. This would mean moving both existing and new employees out of defined-benefit pensions into hybrid approach that features defined-contribution accounts as well as cash-balanced accounts that guarantees an annual savings rate. [Rauner could still allow existing workers the ability to cash out of the old pensions and put that money into the new accounts.]

Particularly for younger teachers who have been forced by S.B. 1 to subsidize veteran colleagues (through contributions as well as taxes they also pay), and lose out on opportunities to truly save for their own retirements, such a plan would actually allow them to fully benefit from their hard work in classrooms. This, by the way, would also benefit younger workers currently paying into the state’s other pensions.

But the most-important step of all Rauner must take starts with forcing TRS and other pensions to offer honest data on their fiscal condition. Simply requiring them to issue special report to him and the legislature using the approach developed by Moody’s would go a long way toward accurate disclosure. Rauner should also demand the legislature to rescind the state law passed six years ago requiring TRS and other pensions to smooth out gains and losses; this means moving to fair market value assessment of assets and liabilities that are honest and clear for everyone.

Through moves such as issuing an executive order ending the ability of public-sector unions to forcibly collect dues from workers who aren’t in their rank-and-file, Rauner has shown so far that he is willing to take tough action that can help taxpayers and public employees alike. Demanding honest numbers from TRS and other pensions is another tough step he can — and should — do.

March 13, 2015 audio

On this edition of On the Road, RiShawn Biddle joins Noodle and Princeton Review founder John Katzman and Jessica Reid Sliwerski of Lightsail Education for a debate on an emerging issue in education: Who should get use of — and access to — formative tests and other student and teacher data. Should it only be teachers? Or should it include school leaders and families, too?

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the On the Road podcast series and the overall Dropout Nation Podcast series. You can also embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunesBlubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.

March 12, 2015 standard

In the weeks since the embarrassment of having his plan for eviscerating the No Child Left Behind Act yanked from a full house vote, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline has spent plenty of time trying to revive it. As you would expect, conservative reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham are doing their part by proclaiming that Kline’s plan, the Student Success Act, would put an end to “big government conservatism” and help erase what many movement conservatives consider to be the excesses of George W. Bush’s presidency.

Yet as Dropout Nation has noted since November, the odds of Kline’s plan — or any No Child reauthorization — being passed this year or in the next is slim to none. Especially in the case Kline’s plan, also known as House Resolution 5, the perceptions of the proposal among true-believer and new-styled movement conservatives (as well as among Republican and Democrat colleagues in the Senate) are already set. Better for Kline (and Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander) to just their efforts die and move on.

Unsurprisingly, some reporters and conservative reformers who were shocked by the rejection of H.R. 5 have tried to find some sort of culprit for what happened. This has included pointing to an opinion piece against the standards on an anti-Common Core Web site that wrongly proclaimed that the No Child reauthorization plan would place restrictions upon families homeschooling their children.

But this interpretation of events by those reporters and pundits (who are still smarting from failing to pay attention to the congressional Republican politics at play) ignores the reality that the ire among movement conservatives against Kline’s proposal had been stoked long before that piece came out. This included a manifesto issued weeks before that piece by a group of otherwise-sensible conservative reformers led by Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and Hoover Institution scholar Williamson Evers which called for No Child’s annual testing requirements to be scrapped from it. Two years earlier, movement conservative true-believers and their allies in the House Republican caucus nearly succeeded in derailing full House passage of an earlier version of the Student Success Act; Kline managed to gain enough votes for passage by working his colleagues the weekend before the final voted.

Licking his proverbial wounds, aware that he will no longer serve on Education and the Workforce after 2016 thanks to term limits on committee chairmanships, and looking to secure some sort of legacy as the chief education policy guy for House Republicans, Kline is doing all he can to win over his peers. This includes getting conservative reformers to write in favor of H.R. 5, as well as issuing releases from the committee geared at setting the record straight. The problem with this? It is later than he thinks. Way too late.

Thanks to the battles over implementing Common Core and the view stoked by Kline and some conservative reformers that federal support for implementation is federal overreach (along with the ire Kline’s staff on Education and the Workforce have stoked over all aspects of federal education policy), true-believers among movement conservatives, already angry at the excesses real and imagined of the Bush presidency, are even less-interested in a No Child reauthorization.

Kline’s proxies can’t help him much because they have no credibility with the hardest of the hardcore in the conservative movement. After all, many of them, especially Petrilli, have touted Common Core’s reading and math standards, that other bete noire among hardcore movement conservatives. Certainly this wouldn’t have been much of a problem if Petrilli and others did as your editor suggested and challenged opposition to Common Core among their fellow-travelers earlier and more vigorously. It would also help their cause if they engaged in some logical consistency on the federal role in education; to many hardcore movement conservatives uninvolved in education, they seem to be talking out of both sides of their proverbial mouths.

[By the way: The accusations of apostasy from movement conservatives against Fordham is one reason why Petrilli is steering a course that includes arguing that some children don’t need higher education (even as the think tank continues to support Common Core implementation) and perspectives on issues such as how to stem single-parent households that have revealed the myopia on racial issues among himself and others in the school reform movement.]

Given that activists among movement conservatives (and their allies in Congress) are far more likely to take their cue on H.R. 5 from the Heritage Foundation than from Fordham (or even the American Enterprise Institute, which has always been viewed by as an organization touting conservatism light), it is unlikely that anything Petrilli or his brethren argue will convince them to support it. This means that Heritage’s Lindsey Burke, who signed the Greene-Evers manifesto, has more influence among movement conservatives than either Petrilli or Hess.

None of this is promising for Kline; Burke has already made clear that movement conservatives should either demand Kline to come up with a No Child reauthorization more to their liking or oppose his apostasy. You can also expect that Heritage Action, the already-political think tank’s even more political activism unit, won’t back off from opposing H.R. 5 as currently written. Same for the Club for Growth, another key player in halting passage of Kline’s plan.

With so little movement conservative support for it, Kline’s plan has as much chance of passing as an immigration reform plan, which means no chance at all. But this isn’t just a problem for Kline. Because House Republicans have to approve any No Child reauthorization passed out of the Senate, it also means that Alexander’s own proposal won’t get any support from House Republicans, either.

Not that the Tennessee Republican’s chance of passing No Child out of the Senate would be easy in the first place. Certainly Alexander and Ranking House Education Labor and Pensions Committee Democrat Patty Murray are trying to negotiate a bipartisan plan. But there are still numerous, substantial disagreements over accountability and other issues. Just as importantly, President Obama is unlikely to sign any plan that eviscerates his own legacy on education policy, and on that front, Alexander’s plan is no different than that of Kline.

This isn’t to say that the impossible cannot happen. But it’s not bloody likely. Kline and his supporters can try to resurrect H.R. 5 all they want. It still won’t mean it isn’t a dead bill. After all, unlike Jesus, the proposal’s father isn’t either omnipotent, omniscient, or jireh.

March 6, 2015 standard

As you already know, one of the key reasons the United Federation of Teachers cites for its opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to expand the number of charter schools in New York State is that the privately-operated public schools serve fewer numbers of kids condemned to special ed than traditional districts. If you only pay attention to the American Federation of Teachers local’s talking points, it is concerned that charters are shortchanging the neediest children by dissuading them from their classrooms.

But as I wrote back in January, the big reason why UFT is so concerned about the dearth of kids in special ed being served by charters has almost everything to do with money. In this case the additional state and federal subsidies collected by the Big Apple for every kid condemned to special ed, which, in turn, flows into the union’s coffers through the dues paid by teachers and paraprofessionals who work in them. At that time, the estimated pull from the state was $1,227.61 based on the data available at the time.

But as a new Dropout Nation analysis of federal data shows, the per-pupil dollars collected by the Big Apple for kids in its special ed ghettos is greater than originally known. Which provides an even better understanding of why UFT is so opposed to the expansion of school choice.

The Big Apple district collected $8,850.81 from the state in 2011-2012 for every one of the 160,134 children condemned to its special ed ghettos, according to data submitted by the district to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Education. How big a haul is this? The Big Apple collected 55 percent more from the state for each kid in special ed than the $5,715.45 it receives in general aid from the state for all of its students.

The cash flow from special ed gets even better once the federal subsidies are added in. New York City collected $2,090.39 in special ed subsidies from the federal government for every kid in its ghettos in 2011-2012. This is 144 percent more than the $856.58 per pupil in Title 1 dollars the district collects from the federal government for each child it serves.

Put altogether, the Big Apple collects $17,513.23 in state and federal subsidies (not including other subsidies and the city’s tax dollars) for every kid condemned into its special ed ghettos. This is nearly three times the $6,572.03 the district collects for kids in regular classrooms (not including other subsidies and the district’s own tax dollars).

Such additional dollars can help the Big Apple hire additional teachers and staff to work in special ed ghettos — and this is good for UFT. As I noted back in January, UFT may generate $14,154.60 per 186 teachers and paraprofessionals (based on an equal number of 93 of each) every month. This is just on the conservative side; after all, the Big Apple likely hires more than teachers and paraprofessionals than the statewide average of 186 per 1,000 students (which is already greater than the national average of 129 per 1,000). Any reduction in the number of kids in special ed ghettos means a reduction in money that the Big Apple can use to keep teachers on payrolls — and, in turn, means fewer dues-paying members for the union.

This is certainly a possibility if Cuomo successfully convinces his colleagues in Albany to allow more charters to open. After all, charters are less-likely to label kids as special ed cases than the traditional district in large part because simply educate kids who would otherwise  be labeled as such as regular students as they often should be. One of the reasons why? Because New York City, like other traditional districts, often place kids into special ed for reasons other than actual cognitive and physical disabilities.

As you can already see, one reason is financial, with the district collecting far more money for kids in special ed than their peers in regular classrooms. Another culprit lies with the reality that diagnosing learning disabilities other than blindness or low-incidence disabilities such as severe cerebral palsy can be a guessing game. Illiteracy, for example, can be mistaken for mental retardation or developmental delays. Such mistakes in diagnosis (along with cultures in schools that don’t work out for active young men of all backgrounds) explain overdiagnosis of kids as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is so rampant. This is problematic because at least two out of every five in kids in special ed are either labeled mentally retarded, developmentally delayed, emotionally disturbed or with a specific learning disability, all categories subject to mistaken diagnosis.

But the biggest problem lies with adults in New York City’s schools and their belief that only some kids are worthy of high-quality education. This is a group that includes some of the most-ardent traditionalists in the UFT’s own rank-and-file. As education scholars such as Vanderbilt University Professor Daniel J. Reschly have pointed out, adults in schools label certain groups of students as learning disabled because they think they are destined to end up that way. As studies such as one by a team led by Tobias Rausch of Germany’s Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg show, teachers and school leaders can end up favoring kids who look like them or share their personality traits; those kids who don’t can end up either in special ed ghettos, targeted for harsh school discipline, or subjected to other forms of educational neglect and malpractice.

Considering the damage that comes from condemning kids to special ed — especially lower high school graduation rates and greater instances of being subjected to the harshest school discipline — UFT should be doing all it can to help reduce the percentage of kids condemned to the Big Apple’s special ed ghettos. This includes championing the expansion of charter and other forms of choice, as well as pushing for a reduction in special ed subsidies that can lead districts such as New York City to focus its special ed efforts on kids truly in need of help.

But given its financial concerns, as well as the sorry record of its now-partly shuttered charter school in handling students in special ed, no one should expect anything less than utter disdain for the futures of children. For UFT, condemning kids to despair is just the cost of doing business.