Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

What parents want in a renewed NCLB

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Signing upToday’s Tribune editorial proposed that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program, by which they mean more testing and “accountability.”

I wrote this response (though the Tribune has not printed one of my letters in quite a while…):

The Tribune’s editorial proposal that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program is not supported by research, best practices, or most U.S. parents.

For example, test-score based teacher evaluation is strongly discouraged by experts at the National Academy of Sciences and elsewhere as unreliable and potentially damaging.

The Tribune’s overall idea of “accountability” is rejected by most Americans. For example, 54 percent polled by Gallup in 2010 agreed that the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.

These findings are echoed in a July 2013 poll of public school parents by the American Federation of Teachers, which found that 77 percent support strong public schools over expanded vouchers and charters. 57 percent agreed that there is too much emphasis on testing today.

No one has more at stake in better schools than parents, but parents want improvements to be based on responsible, effective policies, not the misguided and destructive initiatives of Secretary Duncan’s waiver program.

Most parents support fair, adequate school funding, smaller class sizes, and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we refuse to be used as pawns in corporate reformers’ “parental choice” game. Parents across the U.S. want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools, such as the one provided by Chicago’s local school council system.

PSAT for 4-30-13, Part 1: Stop shopping at Walmart!!!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Why would anyone who cares about public schools shop at Walmart?

Really, folks. It’s your money. And when you shop at WalMart, your money goes to support:

  • more charter schools: $3.8 million in Chicago alone  including $230,000 for UNO charter schools.
  • more school closings: $500,000 to pay for Chicago’s sham “public engagement” school closing hearings.WalMartFrown
  • more astroturf “parent” groups like Stand for Children (millions) and Parent Revolution ($6.3 million) to push the parent trigger and other corporate reforms.
  • more high-stakes standardized testing: Walton supports teacher bonuses linked to raising test scores.
  • more vouchers for private and religious schools.
  • more Michelle Rhee: despite the recent scandals involving Rhee, WalMart just upped their giving to $8 million.

According to Diane Ravitch, “they commit about $160 million each year for charters, vouchers, Teach for America, think tanks, and media. Everything they do has the singular goal of dismantling public education and opening the schools to untrained, uncertified teachers.”

Maybe if every parent, every teacher, and every student in Chicago stopped shopping at WalMart, we wouldn’t all have to be out in the streets time and time again, like the three-day demonstration planned for May 18-19-20. 

Why boycott?

I had a plan to raise a boycott issue once a month, taking a cue from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s strategy – “our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from (businesses).”

I’ve also pointed out that, even without an admittedly unlikely crippling nationwide boycott of WalMart, Microsoft, Hyatt Hotels, etc., we can effectively put pressure where it really hurts: that is, in the corporate image of these companies.

I haven’t stuck with that plan, with so many other actions to take over the past months, but I remain convinced that we have the power to stop these corporate school raiders. WE JUST HAVE TO USE IT.

So. I guess I’m going to be harping on boycotts and attacking the corporate image of these corporate reformers once a month again for a while. I hope you’ll help spread the word.

Mayor Daley’s brother not in favor of New Orleans-style school privatization

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The latest “our schools suck” report from Advance Illinois would seem to suggest that the testing and privatization policies this group has been successfully promoting in the state legislature for the past 4-5 years are not helping much. But instead, AI CEO Robin Steans wants to double down on failure: “We’re going to have to hit this with a 2-by-4,” Robin told the Tribune.

Reminds me of when Paul Vallas called his student flunking policy “The Hammer.” That didn’t work either.

My friend Jim Broadway put it more kindly than I in today’s Illinois School Policy Update:

“(T)he business community’s factory model of educational reform, driven by high-stakes tests aligned to ever more ‘rigorous’ learning standards and intensified ‘accountability’ on everyone involved – has failed. Educators were not involved in the formulation of this model 15 years ago…. But it became law in Illinois and throughout the U.S…. (T)wo AI Board members – Edgar and State Farm Chairman and CEO Ed Rust, Jr. – were key figures in installing the corporate model of education reform in Illinois in the 1990s. Still, it is – by state law – the operative model.”

(Read the rest by subscribing to this most useful of all resources for people who follow education policy in Illinois.)

But here’s the real news: Bill Daley agrees with Jim and me. 

While supportive of charter schools, Advance Illinois Co-chairman William Daley said the solution doesn’t lie in a voucher system or other measures that could largely privatize education. “I’m a big charter school believer, and I think they are playing an enormous role and a growing role, but to take the New Orleans model (where 70 percent of schools are privately run charters), post-Katrina, and say this is the model of the future is totally unrealistic,” Daley said.


Hoosier legislators giving in to vouchers?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Some of our members live in Indiana or have friends/relatives there – it’s time to help them out!!!

A voucher bill similar to the one described below has been in effect in Arizona for several years, and the result has been that middle- and upper-middle-class families get the money to pay for private schools their children were already attending. People are also able to designate who receives their donation, which has led to credit “swapping.”


From colleagues in Indiana:

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #97– February 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

Senate Bill 296 is up for a final vote tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 27) in the House of Representatives. I hope you will read this and then contact members of the House to express your opposition. This is one of the worst bills still alive for those who support public education.

Background to Senate Bill 296

Senate Bill 296 would expand school scholarships for private school tuition given out by Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO’s). This program established in 2009 and expanded in the 2011 voucher bill, gives SGO’s the authority to collect donations for K-12 private school scholarships with the promise that donors can get 50% of their donation back as a tax credit on their state taxes.  Currently, to be eligible for a school scholarship, students must be either entering kindergarten or must be transferring from a public school. This bill would allow 8th graders who have always been in private schools to be eligible for the first time to receive a scholarship.

Each bill in the General Assembly is analyzed for its cost to the treasury in a “fiscal note” prepared by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. The author of the fiscal note for SB 296 was not accurate in writing “These scholarships are privately funded and will not have a fiscal impact on the state.” While they are indeed funded by private donations, the private donors get a tax credit back of 50% of their donation on their state taxes. This clearly creates a fiscal impact.  The state budget allowed $5 million dollars of tax money to be paid back to donors in tax credits. If the program is in high demand and the maximum is reached, it would mean donors have given $10 million dollars and taxpayers would pay $5 million back to these donors in tax credits. If there are fewer donors and less demand, taxpayers would give back less than $5 million and money unspent would revert to the General Fund. In essence, taxpayers are paying for 50% of every school scholarship given. The fiscal impact is obvious.

This program was sold to the General Assembly in 2009 as a money saver. By getting students to transfer from public schools to private schools using these scholarships, the state would not have to pay the public school amount and would only have to pay for 50% of the private school scholarship. This bill would remove that savings for Grade 8 students.  By making 8th graders who have always been in private schools eligible for school scholarships, the 50% of the scholarship picked up by the state will be a new expense for the state, without any savings to replace the cost.  For these 8th grade students, the program is no longer a money saver but a direct cost to the state to cover 50% of the scholarship.

Then by opening the door to all private school 8th graders, these students will remain eligible for school scholarships throughout their high school years. In four years, the state may be funding 50% scholarships for all private high school students who are not getting a voucher and who meet the income family income guideline of $82,000 or less for a family of four.

Should We Give Even More Public Money for Private School Tuition?

With taxpayer money clearly involved in SB 296, the General Assembly has returned to the most divisive question about public education in the past 160 years: Should more public money be given to subsidize tuition for private religious schools?
I say no.  Public money should not be diverted from public coffers to religious schools.

My major concerns are threefold:

1)      This program violates the barrier between church and state. I agree with the leader of Indiana’s common school movement Caleb Mills who wrote in the 1850’s that public money should go to schools that are non-denominational.

2)      Private schools are not “equally open to all.” Parents can not choose the private schools that they want, but rather private schools choose or reject the students. Parent choice does not prevail in this program.

3)      State funding for private school tuition has ended the vision of Caleb Mills and the common school movement of the 1850’s to introduce young citizens to our democracy in a non-partisan forum, where pros and cons are considered in a balanced manor.  State funding now flows to private schools with private missions to impart using techniques that may include partisan presentations and one-sided methods. I fear for our democracy if a high percentage of our young people learn about citizenship in a partisan curriculum and never even hear other perspectives.

This third point was illustrated on February 15th as young students were brought to a Statehouse rally to advocate for vouchers. They were acting as partisans at the direction of adults supporting specific controversial policies. In contrast, you have not seen large groups of public school students being brought to the Statehouse to promote public school interests. Such a tactic is simply not in the public school tradition of non-partisan discussion. If public school students are discussing vouchers, it is back in their classrooms discussing both the pros and cons of the issue. That is as it should be as young people learn how democracy works in a balanced setting.

Would You Want To Run For Reelection Having Supported a Program With These Problems??

Now consider the deep problems this program has accumulated since its inception in 2009. Given this set of facts, voting for the expansion of this program could be politically hazardous for members of the General Assembly. Voters don’t like to see programs expand when their compliance with the law is shaky. This program is clearly a candidate for a “Star Watch Investigation.”  I submit that this program has not been administered in line with the 2009 law. This General Assembly should demand accountability from the Indiana Department before authorizing any expansion of the program. Here are the facts:

1)     Indiana law (IC 20-51-3-3) requires each Scholarship Granting Organization to “(2) Distribute at least ninety percent (90%) of the total amount of contributions as school scholarships to eligible students.”
2)      Indiana law requires one public report by each Scholarship Granting Organization to the IDOE “by August 1 of each year” listing the “amount of contributions received during the previous school year” and “the number and total dollar amount of school scholarships awarded during the previous year.” (IC 20-51-3-6)
3)    In the first report filed under the new law on August 1, 2010, the largest Scholarship Granting Organization, the Educational Choice Charitable Trust, reported donations of $260,000, but they had given out only $152,000 in scholarships, or 58%.  They did not meet the 90% rule in the law in their 2009-10 report. In explaining this, their officials claimed that August 1 was not the deadline to meet the 90% rule. However, the August 1 report is the only report required under the current law, IC 20-51-3-6. If we are not to go by the August 1 report, then there is no other way to check accountability. On August 1, 2011 in the second report of the program, the Educational Choice Charitable Trust distributed according to their own figures 75% ($570,000) of their total contributions of $765,000. Once again, they fell short of 90%.

4)    The law also requires that “the scholarship granting organization must provide a copy of the annual financial audit to the department and must make the annual financial audit available to a member of the public upon request.” I studied the audit to find out when the Educational Choice Charitable Trust met the 90% rule. The answer was not there.  The audit for 2009-10 did not distinguish school scholarships from other scholarships. It did not separate contributions that qualified for tax credits from those that did not. It simply listed all contributions as $675,000, all scholarships as $483,000 (72%), and all salaries and professional fees as $167,000 (25%). There is no evidence in the audit that 90% of the total amount of school scholarship contributions were distributed as school scholarships to eligible students.

5)    Please note that this information is about the audit covering 2009-10, two school years back. The IDOE has not received audits for last year, 2010-11, from any of the four approved Scholarship Granting Organizations listed on the IDOE website.

6)    The School Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana, approved two years ago for this program on March 5, 2010, has yet to submit an audit to the Indiana Department of Education. On August 1, 2011, it reported getting $750 in contributions and giving $750 in scholarships. It is the only one of four groups to report meeting the 90% rule.

7)    The Tuition Assistance Fund of Southwestern Indiana, approved for the program on May 6, 2010, has not submitted an audit to the Indiana Department of Education. In the August 1, 2011 report, it cited contributions of $57,000 and school scholarships awarded totaling $6600, or 12%.

8)    The Sagamore Institute, approved for the program on March 4, 2011, reported on August 1, 2011 a contribution total of $115,000 and school scholarship grants of $8000, or 7%.

9)    Five SGO’s submitted reports in August of 2011, but only four approved SGO’s are listed on the IDOE website.
This set of facts raises many questions about whether the law is being enforced as it should be. The Indiana Department of Education has apparently raised no questions about compliance with the law.

On January 31st, ICPE attorney and lobbyist Joel Hand spoke with 27 Senators about the apparent lack of compliance with the 90% before the Senate passed this bill.  The Department of Education sent a memo to Senators saying that the Educational Choice Charitable Trust had $195,000 in donations in 2010-11 which the donors requested to be used in 2011-12 and that accounted for the apparent shortfall in distribution. Let’s stop and think about that explanation.  Did that many donors really dictate when the money should be used? Can they do that under the law?  Can their wishes be documented by the SGO’s? Did this IDOE memo make the story more credible or less credible?

Since July 1, 2011, the Department of Revenue has awarded over $1.5 million in tax credits. That means donations have reached at least $3 million.  Millions of dollars in your taxpayer money have been entrusted to these SGO’s, and all evidence points to the need for an investigation to see whether they are handling your money according to law.  The facts listed above show that this multi-million dollar program is in disarray and should not be expanded in any way until the General Assembly holds the IDOE accountable for carrying out the law as it was written. Legislators should look into the serious failings in the administration of this program and reject this effort to expand the program.

I urge you to contact members of the House as soon as possible on Monday to ask them to oppose SB 296.

For full information, go to:

There otter be a law

Monday, May 9th, 2011

I reprint this with permission from State School News Service’s Jim Broadway, who, yes! wishes he had thought of that title…

Killing river otters more supported than vouchers

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, State School News Service

The Great Voucher Proposal of 2011 appears stalled in the Senate. Meanwhile, a bill to allow the hunting and trapping of river otters – the cutest critters – is flying through the legislature with hardly any opposition at all.

Why would that be? Let’s take a look.

We’ll consider the otter issue. First, take a look at this two-minute video demonstrating great teaching techniques employed by river otter mothers. Sure, it’s home-schooling, but there’s something about her methods that might apply in public schools.

[Click “Show More” link for great facts. Thanks,]

Actually, this exercise in civic engagement will work better if you let the kids in your class, or your own kids, see the clip. That will heighten the emotion around the bill we are about to consider. (Civic engagement seems to require emotion.)

The bill is HB 1724. It could reach a final vote in the Senate as early as Friday. It has sped through the policy process at a rapid clip and soon could be on the governor’s desk. If the kids are going to head it off, that may have to be where they do it.

What does the bill do? Take a look at the text. It says (Lines 13-14): “It is unlawful for any person to take bobcat or river otter in this State at any time.” That is the law. But the words “or river otter” are stricken through. That is the basic effect of this legislation.

If the bill is enacted (passed by the Senate, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn), the bobcat will be the only animal fully protected under the Illinois Wildlife Code. Otters could be “taken” or “harvested” (“sportsmen” use metaphors for “kill”) like other fur bearing animals.

The rest of the bill describes the regulation. Otter “harvests” could be “registered” for $5 per pelt. Could this be how the policymakers plan to solve the state’s problem of backlogged debt? What if it doesn’t? Are the bobcats next?

How do your kids feel about all this? I think it’s too late to write to legislators, except perhaps to scold them for supporting this bill. If they want to have their voice heard, kids should write the governor a note urging that he “Veto HB 1724.” Mail it to:

Gov. Pat Quinn, 207 State House, Springfield, IL 62706.

Now, does this seem frivolous? I think not. You learned that otters are in peril despite their mothers’ best teaching techniques. You learned how to read a bill (underlined language adds to current law, and stricken-through words are removed).

And the kids learned a simple but effective act of civic engagement.

Now let’s examine the voucher issue. It is more complex than our concern about river otters – and it has attracted powerful forces, for and against it – but it has the potential to influence the shape of public education in Illinois for years.

The vehicle is SB 1932. Its goal is to “rescue” up to 30,000 grade school students – almost all of them of poor, minority-race families – from “failing” Chicago Schools.

It is sponsored by Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) and is co-sponsored by three other white Republican men from the suburbs, plus Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), an African-American.

The bill would let parents of children attending the “lowest-performing” or most over-crowded schools in Chicago apply for vouchers worth $3,800 each, which would be used to pay tuition and fees for the students to attend a private school.

Advocates call it “reform” and claim it is the only way to save children “trapped” in failing schools. Opponents say it harms public schools and is just a step down the road toward privatizing them. It is a largely partisan issue. Most Republicans support voucher programs; most Democrats vote against them.

This was to be “the year” four vouchers in Illinois. A bill sponsored by Meeks passed the Senate last year with 22 GOP votes and 11 from Democrats. It came within a whisker of passing the House, but Meeks’ bill died just short of the finish line.

Why has Murphy’s bill stalled this year? It has missed two deadlines for a vote to pass the Senate. It now seems dead. There may be many causes for SB 1932 to crash, but I think the biggest obstacle was placed in its path by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago).

While voting for it in committee, Lightford objected to the fact that the bill would give private schools vouchers for $3,800 per student and, if that was not enough, the schools could invoice the parents for the rest. That would not do, Lightford said.

Murphy drafted an amendment to address that, but he never called the bill for a vote. My guess is that adopting the amendment prohibiting balance-billing would cut both ways. It locks in Lightford, but it sours private school interests on the bill.

The $3,800 figure is approximately what the Chicago Public School District receives, per student, from the state. But CPS also is supported heavily by property taxes and of federal funds. Educating a child costs far more than $3,800. If the private schools could not bill parents for the difference, they might lose interest in SB 1932. Perhaps they already have.

Vouchers dead this year?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

It may already have been too late for vouchers in Illinois by the time I started this debate with a pro-voucher business group rep last night on Chicago’s FOX News.

The voucher bill’s Senate sponsor, Matt Murphy, decided not to call the bill yesterday, apparently because he did not have enough votes to pass it. The extended deadline for the bill ends today.

A failure of leadership

On FOX, I called the voucher idea evidence of a failure of leadership, part of an effort to change America into a nation that no longer promises every child a high-quality education. It’s the same idea rich folks are working hard to sell, that oil companies deserve billions in windfall profits and executives deserve millions in bonuses, while the rest of us just might never have a decent job, own a home, or get health insurance. Why should we expect a good school in the kinds of neighborhoods we live in?

My opponent agreed that it’s about failure of leadership – the failure of decades of bad management of our schools (hope they don’t invite him to speak at Mayor Daley’s farewell dinner….) that leaves us with only one answer – give parents a voucher.

He also claimed that vouchers improve education, then proceeded to quote from studies conducted by his own organization, while independent, non-biased studies show that vouchers make no difference in educational outcomes.

Children first??

We got into kind of a silly extended metaphor about boats and sinking ships. He suggested that you have to put some children in the lifeboat to get them off the Titanic and I countered that it would be better to get the ship back on track.

If we really were on the Titanic and the captain really had just crashed into the iceberg, then, yeah, I think you have to do some triage. But it turns out that charter schools and vouchers aren’t lifeboats but simply other sections of the same ship, perhaps the pricier but still tiny cabins as opposed to the hammocks down in the hold where the crew sleep. Same outcome, though.

We have to keep remembering that this is the same Springfield that has failed – failed – failed to fix state school funding for decades. We have to stop letting them get away with – OK, I’ll say it — trying to putting a band-aid on the Titanic.

Three jobs for PSAT: It’s getting real, folks!

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

For Public Schools Action Tuesday today, there are three important things to do as education issues heat up across the US and locally:

1) It’s the second week of the Congressional spring break, and a good time to get a message to your Senator and Congressman about ESEA. Parents Across America has made it easy for you – we have prepared this detailed position paper on ESEA reauthorization which you can attach to a letter (better hurry!), a fax (to their home office), or an e-mail (easiest but least effective unless you follow it up with a phone call). Follow this link to find all that contact info. Here are some talking points for that phone call.

2) Sign PAA’s petition supporting our ESEA position paper here.

3) Call your Illinois State Senator (they are home this week, too) asking him/her to vote NO on SB1932, this year’s voucher bill. If you get a chance, you might also touch base with members of the House Education Committee, where the senate bill will land if it is voted out of the Senate next week.

Here’s the message I’m sending:

Help stop vouchers from becoming law in Illinois! Please vote NO on SB 1932.

What's wrong with vouchers?

First of all, they don't work. The most recent study of the longest-running voucher program, in Milwaukee, found that voucher students do no better than regular public school students.

Secondly, vouchers take scarce funds away from public schools and sends them to private and/or religious schools that are not accountable to the public. Some of these schools refuse to enroll or later push out more challenging students.

Finally, vouchers distract us from the real work of improving schools for all of our children, and waste money when we are in the worst budget crisis in recent memory.

Please commit to voting NO on SB 1932.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.