It does not mean tax dollars going to private and parochial schools. It does not mean our money going to institutions where we get no say in how it’s spent. It does not mean circumventing duly elected school boards. It does not mean the public paying for religious indoctrination or the kind of right wing biased education routinely provided at private schools.
This doesn’t sound like the candidate teachers like me have been backing since before this election cycle began. Frankly, it’s almost what your gubernatorial opponent, MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano, champions.
Mastriano – a Trump insurrectionist – says he wants to use state education funding to give EVERY student a school voucher they can use at almost any school in the Commonwealth – public, private or parochial.
You seem to want vouchers ONLY for students at the most underfunded and struggling schools.
“And I’m for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their education. That it gives them other opportunities…to be able to help them achieve success”
These so-called Lifeline Scholarships are a Republican lead measure to give direct-to-student tax-funded scholarships that parents and guardians in the state’s most neglected public schools could use for a variety of options including going toward tuition at a different school.
It would affect about 191,000 students in 382 schools, across 76 of the state’s 500 school districts. However, Two-thirds of the cost of the program (63.1%) is born by four districts – Philadelphia (43.9%), Reading (8.9%), Allentown (5.8%) and Pittsburgh (4.5%).
This would create another taxpayer funded system of education. Affected districts would lose so much funding it would ultimately force them to reduce programs, services, and staffing and/or raise property taxes to compensate.
Pennsylvanians can’t afford losing their only chance at self rule because of demoralization and despair at a candidate too weak to support the platform he began this campaign on – championing public education.
I urge you to reconsider this flirtation with Republican values and school vouchers.
I hope you are better than this.
We deserve a governor who is better than this.
Please have the courage to stand by authentic public schools.
In fact, it’s one of the main reasons given for the American colonies fighting a war with Great Britain. No taxation without representation.
And most charter schools are guilty of it.
But not all!
There are charter schools run by elected school boards. They either choose this management system though it is not required by their charter or their charter explicitly requires it – like any other taxpayer funded school.
Does this excuse these charter schools from the same inequities as their more privileged brethren?
And this is an important point.
How does a charter school open in the first place?
Most authentic public schools were started many years ago by the communities where they operate.
Community members got together, agreed they needed a school, elected board members to manage it, collected tax money, etc.
Charter schools are much newer inventions that come about differently.
The operator then goes to the state, community or usually school district where they propose to open the charter (it depends on the state charter law) and puts forward a proposal. Then the state, community or board decides to approve or deny that proposal.
However, nearly every charter school law does not give local communities an unlimited right of refusal. After all, if they did, there would be hardly any charter schools in existence.
Think about it.
When an authentic public school district decides to open a charter school inside its borders, it is agreeing to give a portion of the tax dollars it already receives to the charter school. It is agreeing to run its existing schools on less money so the charter can open up.
Why would any authentic public school do this? Only if it saw a real need for a new school and did not want to open a new school, itself. That’s a pretty rare situation.
However, nearly every charter school law gives very narrow reasons that new charter applications can be refused. So most of the time, the district has no choice but to approve these proposals. And if a district does refuse, the matter often goes to a state charter approval board which almost always reverses the decision. The community says no – state functionaries say yes.
So even when one of these so-called good charter schools managed by an elected school board opens up, it does so by overruling the decisions of the community it serves.
Charter schools create burdens for their communities. They siphon tax dollars from the existent public schools without reducing costs by much at all. So the authentic public school board is forced to make a hard decision – cut services for students and run with their reduced tax revenue or increase taxes to make up the difference.
Charter schools equal higher taxes in districts that can afford it and a reduction in educational quality in those districts that can’t.
This is a situation the community did not ask for. The community did not demand a new charter school. A handful of charter operators did to enroll a handful of students.
And if anyone does find a yellowed document for one of these schools labeled “charter,” best to tear it up. You don’t need it since your charter school has no need of special agreements.
Keep in mind, this is long before we get into the specifics of how charter schools can (and often do) exploit children and communities.
If the very existence of your school is predicated on the existence of a charter agreement, that is inequitable.
It does not need to follow all of the rules that authentic public schools must.
These are rules about being accountable for how you spend tax dollars, having minimum academic standards, hiring qualified staff, etc.
If there really are some rules that charter schools should be freed from obeying, why not just free all taxpayer funded schools from these rules? You don’t need a special agreement. You need to renegotiate the state school code.
Otherwise, this is giving special treatment to some schools rather than others.
That is the point.
Charter schools – ALL CHARTER SCHOOLS – are inequitable by definition and design.
This is fundamentally different from authentic public schools which are funded in the same way but subject to the leadership of an elected board of directors made up of members of the community. At charter schools, decisions can be made entirely by an appointed board who are not beholden to the public but to the organizers and investors who created the charter school in the first place.
To be fair, a charter school cannot exist in a community unless its operators can convince enough parents to enroll their children. However, no one needs to invite the charter school into the community in the first place.
Like with any business, these entrepreneurs can decide to set up shop pretty much anywhere, and though local public schools are tasked with approving or disapproving their request to locate within district boundaries, most state charter school laws provide very few resources to authentic public schools to turn charter schools away. Moreover, when charter applications are denied, the community that turned them away are often overruled by unelected privatization-friendly functionaries in state government.
Think about what a transformation has been thus accomplished.
Stakeholders such as students, families, teachers, and communities become merely economic resources ripe for hegemony – not free people with the right to control their own destinies.
After all, just because a small number of parents have decided to enroll their kids at a charter school, that doesn’t mean the community at large – which is far more numerous and will have to fund this endeavor – supports it. Moreover, the money taxpayers are expected to offload on the charter school come from their existent public schools – and the slight reduction in students does not equal a proportionate reduction in cost. Most expenses are fixed regardless of enrollment. You still have to heat and cool the building, staff the classes, etc. So the community has to decide whether to shortchange the majority of children who continue to be enrolled at the authentic public school or (as often is the case) pay more in taxes to make up the difference.
“Our minds are targets of colonization, the goal being the replacement of any sense of a common good and shared responsibly with the neoliberal axiom that economic self-interest is the only right and natural course of action. You are to think like consumers, not citizens. You are to shop for the best schools for your student, not invest your time and effort in improving them for everyone.”
Others have gone even farther finding racism in the daily administration of charter schools, themselves. After all, many charter schools locate themselves around inner city black communities and therefore exploit the children of color they find there.
Bloggers Russ Walsh and Jonathan Pelto noted how similarly both colonialists and charter school operators often treat the people in the communities where they are located.
Colonialism is often white Europeans acting on brown indigenous people. The colonizers are going to “raise those savages up” or in the words of noted imperialist Rudyard Kipling, ease the “white man’s burden.”
Walsh notes that we see the same apparent motivation among charter school operators with regard to the often black and brown children enrolled in their schools. They use militaristic, highly autocratic systems of discipline to keep these children in-line.
“…while working as the Dean of Students for a charter school in New Orleans, it took me some time to realize that I had been enforcing rules and policies that stymied creativity, culture and student voice…
My daily routine consisted of running around chasing young Black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they added a different color streak to their hair, or following young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally as students were not able to wear their hair in uncombed afro styles. None of which had anything to do with teaching and learning, but administration was keen on making sure that before Black students entered the classroom that they looked “appropriate” for learning. As if students whose hair was natural or those whose parents could not afford a uniform tie could not achieve like others who possessed these items…
…everything at the school was done in a militaristic/prison fashion. Students had to walk in lines everywhere they went, including to class and the cafeteria. The behavioral norms and expectations called for all students to stand in unison with their hands to their sides, facing forward, silent until given further instruction.”
Students should not be treated like prisoners. Children should not be forced to comply with such harsh rules of conduct. And no one should be compelled to give up their cultural heritage for any reason – but especially because those in charge don’t value them as human beings.
It’s way past time we admit it.
This is colonialism.
Charter schools are colonial enterprises.
We can and should criticize the UK for its history of violence and oppression. We can and should include many US international policies in the same condemnation.
But we mustn’t stop there.
Colonialism is on our streets and in our schools.
We have been colonized by the rich and powerful and our children of color have received the worst of it.
We must end the charter school experiment.
We must end the neighborhood colonialism that too few are willing to call by its rightful name.
-Vasquez Heilig, J., Khalifa, M., & Tillman, L. (2013). Why have NCLB and high-stakes reforms failed?: Reframing the discourse with a post-colonial lens. In K. Lomotey and R. Milner (Eds.), Handbook of Urban Education. New York: Routledge.
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Honestly, I don’t know how we’d cram all the desks in the room. I can barely fit 15 in there now.
Where would we put the books, computers and cabinets? The students, alone, would be wall-to-wall.
Just imagine that many middle school kids stuffed into the room arguing about who’s touching who and which classmate stole their pencil or book. Not to mention the children striving to get my attention to solve disputes, get help with classwork, ask permission to use the bathroom – and a thousand other issues!
For example, there’s no way we could afford a school nurse at each building like we have today. We’d be lucky to have one nurse for all four buildings in the district – elementary schools, middle schools and the high school. If a student feels sick, there’s not much I could do except send the child to the office to try to call home and get a parent or guardian to pick the kid up early. And if the parents can’t make it, just let the kid put his or her head down?
What if the issue’s more psychological? There might be a school counselor somewhere in the district so a student can talk out an issue he or she is having – perhaps conflict resolution with a former friend, discuss peer pressure to try drugs or maybe deal with suicidal thoughts. But there’s probably a long waiting list to see this mythical counselor. Hopefully, the problem is not too urgent.
I feel especially bad for the special education students. Aides would be almost non-existent so many kids with special needs would have to struggle through issues with which we’d normally help them. All the individual Education Plans (IEPs) would have to be rewritten to take this new normal into account.
Even lunch would be disrupted. After all, there would be fewer cafeteria workers so it would be harder just to cook a hot meal and make sure it gets onto a tray in time for students to eat it.
There’s no doubt about it.
My classroom would be very different if Mastriano wins the gubernatorial election in November.
At my district of Steel Valley in Munhall on the western side of the Commonwealth, the situation probably would be much like I described.
I can’t imagine how any teacher could adequately tend to double the students, but I might not have to imagine it.
I’d probably be laid off.
More than half of Steel Valley’s staff would be out of a job – 92 of our current 172 school nurses, counselors, aides, cafeteria workers and teachers would be looking for work.
And that’s just where I’m employed.
Things would be even worse for my daughter where she attends McKeesport Area School District.
According to PSEA estimates, the nearby McKeesport district would lose 281 of 521 staff – a 54% reduction. Classes would go from an average of 17 students to an average of 46. That’s an increase of 29 students per class!
How can she learn in that kind of environment!? She isn’t in college yet. She isn’t in some University of Pittsburgh survey class that meets in an auditorium. She’s in middle school!
But it would be pretty similar at public schools, charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units across the state.
From one side of the Commonwealth to the other, we’d go from 239,902 staff to 121,198. Class size would go from an average of 16 students per class to 33. That’s an increase of 17 students per class or 109%.
Like so many wannabe big time policymakers, he is very light on the details of how we would educate the state’s 1.7 million students. This whole proposal was just something he blurted out during a March 2022 WRTA radio interview.
It’s his plan to completely eliminate local school property taxes. Funding would be provided directly to parents via “Education Opportunity Accounts,” and families could then decide whether they want a public, private, charter or home school option.
To go from a statewide average funding level of $19,000 a student to $9,000 a student requires a cut of $17.6 billion, or 53%.
But if the remainder isn’t being paid by property taxes, that’s a roughly $15.3 billion a year expenditure by the state that used to be paid by local property taxes. Where is he getting that money from? And if the state can afford to pay that much, why not just pay the full $19,000 per student and make none of these unnecessary cuts? Or why not just pay half and reduce property taxes by that much? Mastriano is not exactly forthcoming on any of this.
PSEA admits that to come up with its own estimates of the damage the organization filled in a few details. The union assumes the state would fully fund the $9,000-per-student voucher and leave other local non-property taxes and federal revenues untouched.
That might not happen. We could be looking at an even more draconian situation.
The biggest question the PSEA is sidestepping is the impact of allowing taxpayer dollars to fund so many different types of schooling.
Even under Mastriano’s plan, nontraditional educational providers like charter schools would suffer because like traditional public schools they would be receiving less funding from the state than they do now. And parents using their vouchers to pay for private schools for their children would still have to make up a pretty big gap between the amount of the voucher and the cost of private school tuition.
The books are riddled with counter factual claims and political bias in every subject imaginable such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from White Europeans.
If someone wants to pay for such an education out of their own pocket, that’s one thing. But to ask taxpayers to fund such propaganda is something else entirely!
Thankfully, Pennsylvania voters don’t have to accept this. Not yet anyway.
There are still more than three months before the election. Voters can choose the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro. He has promised to INCREASE education funding and not just blow up the whole system.
To see an interactive map of how Mastriano’s education cuts would affect your school district, click here.
For now this is only a bad dream. We still have time to wake up and vote accordingly.
Students should not have to submerge themselves in a sea of classmates and hope the teacher will have time to educate them.
What do QAnon conspiracy theorists and school privatization promoters have in common?
The two groups do everything they can to disassociate with each other in public.
But examine their ideas and you’ll see a lot of family resemblances.
For example, take Great Replacement Theory and School Choice.
Great Replacement Theory is the idea that people of color are replacing white people both numerically and politically. Adherents claim Democrats are overrunning native-born white people with brown skinned immigrants in order to wrest political power. The claims have no basis in fact, but that doesn’t stop the narrative from gaining traction in the darkest corners of the Internet and right wing circles.
It is a favorite of far right pundits, immigration catastrophists and mass shooters. In fact, several white men have used it as justification for mass murder.
School choice, on the other hand, seems to be something much less extreme.
At least you don’t have to be a card carrying member of the lunatic fringe to espouse its supposed virtues.
It’s the idea that kids should be segregated into different school systems based on parental choice. This means that parallel systems will compete for students in a Darwinian marketplace where some will get better resources than others with profit being the prime motivator for school operators most of whom are private corporations. In practice, this usually means that the worst racial and economic segregation is justified and even preferable so long as consumers think doing so will get them some kind of advantage.
It’s quite a popular idea among certain market first ideologues. This includes both Democrats and Republicans, investment bankers, and even some social justice advocates.
“You can’t just replace the electorate because you didn’t like the last election outcomes. That would be the definition of undermining democracy, changing the voters… The great replacement. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s their electoral strategy.”
And when it comes to school choice, he goes even further. Not only has he promoted it on Fox News, he is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a media source that constantly promotes school privatization and other corporate education reform strategies – school vouchers, charter schools, etc.
So what do the two concepts have in common?
In short: racism and white supremacy.
Great Replacement Theory is a kind of grievance politics complaining about the steady loss of white privilege.
School choice is an attempt to recapture or maintain white privilege at the educational level and by extension into the adult economic and political world.
Great Replacement Theory has its roots in French nationalism books dating back to the early 1900s, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Chief among these is French Author, Jean Raspail, whose 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, told a fictional tale of migrants banding together to take over France. However, the concept’s more contemporary use is attributed to Renaud Camus, a French writer who wrote “Le Grand Remplacement” (“The Great Replacement”) in 2011.
White supremacists blame Jewish people for nonwhite immigration to the U.S., and the concept is closely associated with antisemitism, according to the ADL.
Belk said white nationalists are worried that, “whites will no longer be a majority of the general population, but a plurality, and see that as a threat to their own well-being and the well-being of the nation.”
What makes individual extremists and white nationalist groups so dangerous, according to Belk, are the lengths they are willing to go to in order protect their position in society:
“They are willing to use any means that are available to preserve and defend their position in society … it’s almost like a sort of holy war, a conflict, where they see themselves as taking the action directly to the offending culture and people by eliminating them.”
By contrast, school choice is a quieter ideology, but based on similar foundations.
And we see the same in charter schools and private schools accepting taxpayer funded vouchers today. The prime motivation behind sending children to these schools is often “white flight”. White parents use these options to flee schools with higher percentages of non-white students. And choice options tend to lure the more motivated and compliant students away from public schools.
We see the same effect with school vouchers. A 2018 study of Washington, D.C.’s voucher program found that 70% of voucher students were enrolled in heavily segregated schools with 90% or more minority students, and 58% were enrolled in all-minority schools.
So both concepts – Great Replacement Theory and school choice – center around increasing white supremacy.
Both seek to shore up white political and economic power regardless of white people’s numeric majority. In fact, as white people become less of the majority – not through any importing of people of color from other nations but as a natural consequence of birth rates – they seek to disempower people of color.
If Mastriano somehow wins the governors race, he will be in a position to basically call off Democratic rule in the state. As governor, he would choose the secretary of state — the official in charge of administering the 2024 presidential election. This would effectively allow him to pick the winner, himself.
This is not just conjecture. Mastriano has gone on record that as governor he would decertify voting machines in some precincts – making it hard to count votes there. He has even alluded to the independent state legislature doctrine, which holds that state legislatures can name whoever they want as the recipient of a state’s electoral votes, regardless of who voters select.
This is not conservatism. It is not protecting American values or law and order. It is the opposite.
By contrast, Shapiro, the Democrat in the race, is a model of exactly those qualities usually associated with sobriety and efficiency.
The way I see it, this is a simple – if terrifying – election.
Shapiro is not perfect, but if elected, he would function similarly to current Governor Tom Wolf. He would be a guardian against the overreach and bad decisions of the gerrymandered Republican legislature.
One can hope voters throughout the Commonwealth would take back their individual voting districts from the extremists, but given the still uncompetitive lines of these districts, this seems unlikely.
So we need a Wolf, we need a Shapiro, standing on the battlements stopping the goons like Mastriano from taking advantage of the majority of us.
Shapiro would certainly do that. He might even go farther and fight to find ways to get real change through the legislature. But even if he can’t do that, voting for him is essential.
That would make a huge difference both nationally and throughout the state.
It would set us up with a firm foundation and at least keep people safe from the worst.
I know it is depressing to be put in this situation constantly. Every election cycle seems to be the most important because the country is falling apart. Maybe we can find a way to turn things back and reach some level of sanity. But we can’t do anything unless we elect Shapiro, Davis and Fetterman.
We need the guardians against the goons.
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How can an organization dedicated to the same ideas that prompted the exodus turn around and stop the evacuation!?
That’s like hiring a pyromaniac as a fire fighter!
“Pennsylvania’s educator shortage is the biggest threat facing not only our educational system but our future prosperity as a commonwealth,” Boyce said at the press conference.
“If schools are engines of educational and economic opportunity, then educators are the conductors who keep the train moving forward. Teach Plus teachers have been sounding the alarm about this crisis and are eager to partner with the Department to enact ambitious and transformational changes to better recruit and retain educators in Pennsylvania.”
Given the track record of Teach Plus, any well-informed individual should be wary of the how “eager [the organization is] to partner with the Department to enact ambitious and transformational changes.”
They can’t buy a home or even rent an apartment in most metropolitan areas. They can’t afford to marry, raise children, or eke out a middle class existence.
Yet increasing teacher salary is only briefly mentioned in step 13 of the first focus group as follows:
“13. Based on the resources that PDE develops on competitive compensation and incentives, advocate for and secure funding from the General Assembly that enables hiring entities to compete more effectively in the regional labor market.”
Talk about anemic language!
Imagine being on a sinking ship and someone only mentioning plugging the leak in such terms – if we can, based on our resources, yada, yada, yada.
Another point that jumped out to me was recruitment of new teachers.
Under focus two, the plan calls for:
“6. Partner with nonprofit organizations working to develop recruitment, training, and mentoring programs for middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds to identify and recruit future educators.”
Getting more people to become teachers sounds great, but why are we partnering with “nonprofit organizations” and which ones in particular do you have in mind?
Then there’s the emphasis on building a diverse workforce.
In itself, that’s an excellent and necessary goal. However, if you aren’t going to make the profession more attractive, you aren’t going to increase diversity. Right now one of the major reasons our schools are full of mostly white, middle class teachers is because white, middle class people are the only ones who can afford to take the job.
This is what Teach Plus does. It advocates for neoliberal disruptions in school management.
In the past, Teach Plus has insisted older more experienced educators be fired while shielding “promising young teachers” from the brunt of these firings. There is a great deal of evidence that teacher effectiveness, on a wide range of indicators – not just test scores – increases as teachers gain experience. However, new teachers are easier to brainwash into corporate education reform – to be driven by standardized test scores and data instead of the needs of the living, human beings in front of them in the classroom.
So this proposed teacher preparation and professional development is of what kind exactly? I’ll bet it’s mostly reeducation to accept corporate education reform. I’ll bet it’s focused on ways to increase student test scores which will then be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness – a program that has been roundly disproven for decades.
So where does that leave us?
A decades ago roughly 20,000 new teachers entered the workforce each year, while last year only 6,000 did so, according to PDE.
A teenage boy in a black trench coat walks down a school hallway.
A young girl abruptly turns a corner and is about to walk past when she stops and notices an oblong shape in his coat.
He pulls out an AR-15 and points it at her head.
She gasps. He smiles.
“Hold it right there, Patrick.” Says a voice behind him.
“Mr. Callahan?” The boy says starting to bring the barrel around.
‘Uh-uh. Stop right there,” says the voice shoving something in the boy’s back.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the teacher continues. “My homeroom teacher, Mr. Callahan, has a gun in his desk. Did he remember to bring it with him to hall duty? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being it’s a 500 S&W Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”
Apparently this is how Doug Mastriano thinks school shootings can best be prevented.
Not gun control. Not stopping teens from buying assault weapons. Not keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Instead, arm the teachers. Arm the principals. Put a piece in the hands of Lunch Lady Doris. Maybe even the custodians will be packing heat with a bucket and mop.
This is not the kind of serious proposal Commonwealth residents deserve from a representative of the legislature or executive branch. It’s not the kind of serious proposal you’d expect from a grown adult. Heck. It’s not what you’d expect from a small child still unable to tie his own shoes.
School shootings are not action movie scenarios. They’re not run-and-gun video games. They’re not cops and robbers. They’re real life.
Lest we forget, there were police officers on both the campuses of Robb Elementary School in Texas and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where shootings cumulatively took the lives of more than 30 students.
According to a 2021 JAMA Network study that looked at 133 school shootings from 1980 to 2019, armed guards did not significantly reduce injuries or deaths during school mass shootings.
In fact, when researchers controlled for location and school characteristic factors, “the rate of deaths was 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present.”
Put simply, school shootings are not rational activities subject to cost benefit analysis from the people contemplating doing them. Would-be shooters do not expect to come out alive. They don’t care if there is armed resistance or not. In fact, the presence of armed resistance only encourages them to bring deadlier weaponry – especially semi-automatic guns.
The few people who thought it was a good idea and said they would gladly bring a gun with them to school are nice people – but they’re the last ones you’d want armed.
Moreover, we have a school resource officer who said he was not in favor of the measure because it would make things tougher for law enforcement responding to a shooting. It would make it that much more unclear who the shooter was and increase the chances of friendly fire.
It’s hardly surprising Mastriano is making such boneheaded proposals.
When I heard my school board was considering a proposed district budget for 2022-23 without a tax increase, I wanted to take a look at it. So I went to the district Website and there was a link labelled:
“The Board of Directors of the McKeesport Area School District has prepared a Preliminary Budget in the amount of funds that will be required by the School District for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022. The Proposed Budget is on file in the Office of the Business Manager/Board Secretary, and is available for public inspection in the McKeesport Area School District Administration Building…” [Emphasis mine.]
What the heck!?
Why not just post the preliminary budget on the Internet!? Why make me go all the way to the administration building (during business hours) to see a copy?
If I want to know how my district proposes to spend the community’s tax dollars next year, I need to either go to the school board meeting or go to the administration office and look at a copy. Will I be able to take a copy with me to peruse at my leisure? Maybe or maybe not.
The problem is how too many public school directors meet these obligations.
MASD, for example, makes its proposed budget available – but not in the most convenient way that it could.
Let’s be honest. It wouldn’t take much to improve this.
Posting the full budget online would take just a few seconds. In fact, it’s actually more trouble to have it available in the administration building and task a secretary with presenting it to anyone who comes in-person and asks for it.
I’ve gone to a lot of school board meetings in my life. A LOT.
And almost every board put unnecessary or onerous restrictions on public comments.
Residents could come to the meetings and address the board but they often had to sign in before-hand. They couldn’t just show up and speak. They had to let the board know days in advance that they were coming and the subject they planning to speak on.
If something came up during the meeting unplanned, technically residents weren’t allowed to comment – though I admit I’ve never seen a school board hold to such a policy in the case of unexpected events.
Also there are almost always time limits on public comments.
Limiting people to two minutes of public comment in a month or even a two-week period is ridiculous.
Then we have the issue of audio visuals at board meetings.
Many school boards have microphones for people to speak into during the proceedings. This is supposed to allow everyone present to hear what is being said. However, the equipment is often so bad that it actually ends up blurring the speaker’s voice until its incomprehensible or board members who don’t want to be heard simply don’t speak into the microphone.
Sure – the entire proceedings are being taken down by hand by an administrator for an official written copy of the minutes. But this isn’t even available to the public until a month later when the board votes on last month’s minutes document. The public can’t get a copy of this material until more than a month has passed from it taking place. And it probably isn’t available on-line.
Finally, we have recordings of the meetings.
Many school boards now video tape their meetings and stream them live on YouTube, Facebook or some other social media site.
This is a nice improvement from when community groups had to do this, themselves. And, in fact, it’s really a response to that phenomenon to gain control over what becomes public record. School boards began recording the meetings to discourage others from doing it so the district would have control over this material. And in most cases it worked.
However, these recordings are almost always of exceedingly poor quality.
Cameras (and microphones) are placed so far away that it is almost impossible to tell what is happening, what is being said or who said it.
Any teenager with a smart phone and a YouTube channel could do a better job.
Moreover, these videos often don’t stay posted online for very long. They could easily remain posted so anyone could rewatch them and catch up with what happened at a school board meeting they were unable to attend in-person. But school boards make the express decision to take these videos down so that record is not available.
Very few of these are accidents. In most cases these are intentional to push the public away at the exact time when they should be inviting them in.
These are just some examples of how school boards comply with transparency requirements but do so in ways that are inconvenient, onerous or antagonistic.
It is so unnecessary.
Things don’t have to be this way.
School boards should welcome transparency. They should embrace public participation in the process.
The Covid-19 pandemic on top of years of corporate sabotage and propaganda have obscured what public education really means and why it is absolutely necessary to the functioning of our society and any possibility of social, racial or economic justice.
Let’s begin by looking at how the current disaster exacerbated an already difficult situation and then consider why we should care enough to fix the mess.
The Pandemic Effect
Public schools got a bloody nose from the Coronavirus crisis.
In fact, it was the failure of federal, state and even local municipal governments that often made public schools the de facto legislators of last resort. And this is something they were never meant to be.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And finding replacements has been difficult. Nationwide, an average of one educator is hired for every two jobs available.
This has left us with a weakened system suffering from more problems than before the pandemic hit.
Why Are Public Schools Important?
Because of what they are and what they represent.
We hear about public education so often – usually in deprecating terms – that we forget exactly what the term signifies.
It is a school where any child can go to get an education.
You don’t have to pay tuition. You don’t have to have a special ability or qualification. You don’t have to be neurotypical, a certain race, ethnicity, belong to a certain faith or socioeconomic status. If you’re living in the US – even if you’re here illegally – you get to go there.
That may seem simple, but it is vitally important and really quite special.
Not all nations have robust systems of public education like we do in the US.
This country has a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home.
Perhaps even more significant is our commitment to children with special needs.
We have developed a special education system to help children at the edges that many other countries just can’t touch. In some nations these students are simply excluded. In others they are institutionalized. In some countries it’s up to parents to find ways to pay for special services. The United States is one of the only countries where these children are not only included and offered full and free access, but the schools go above and beyond to teach these children well beyond their 12th academic year.
In every authentic public school in the United States these students are included. In math, reading, science and social studies, they benefit from instruction with the rest of the class. And this, in turn, benefits even our neurotypical students who gain lessons in empathy and experience the full range of human abilities.
That isn’t to say the system has ever been perfect. Far from it.
Moreover, any school that attracts a surplus of students can choose which ones its wants to enroll. The choice becomes the school’s – not the parents’ or students’. In fact, administrators can turn away students for any reason – race, religion, behavior, special needs, how difficult it would be to teach him or her. This is much different from authentic public schools. There, any student who lives in the district may attend regardless of factors such as how easy or difficult he or she is to educate.
But you may luck out. Every privatized school isn’t a scam. Just most of them. So if you have found a charter, cyber or voucher school that is working for your child and doesn’t self-destruct in the time your child is enrolled, you may wonder why you should worry about the rest of us – the kids caught up in a web of privatized predation and neglect?
You have to live in this society. Do you really want to live in a country with a large population of undereducated citizens who cannot figure out how to vote in their own interests? Do you really want to live in a society where crime is a better career choice for those who were not properly educated?
That’s why we can’t let public education disappear.
Many people are upset with what local boards did during the pandemic, but the way to solve this isn’t to flee to schools without democratic principles. It is to seize those principles and make them work for you and your community.