Tag Archives: Parent Choice

EdBuild: Secrecy and the End Game

          It is January 2017, and the assault on public school education in Mississippi continues.  The Republican push to privatize public education is at full throttle, and once again funding for public schools will most likely fall far below the amount required by state law.  In fact, the Joint Legislative Budget recommendation for the 2017-18 school year is 180.9 million dollars short of the amount required to fully fund the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) formula.  However, if state leaders get their way, shortchanging MAEP may not be an issue much longer.  In the fall of 2016, they hired an out of state group (EdBuild) to study the formula and make recommendations for changes.  After the Initiative 42 battle over MAEP funding in 2015, most public school educators had been expecting such a move to rewrite or eliminate the formula.  However, the clandestine approach state leaders took to hire EdBuild as well as their efforts to block the public from gaining access to knowledge about the scope of the consulting firm’s work, truly troubled public school educators and their supporters.

When the public discovered, state leaders had hired EdBuild to study and recommend changes to the MAEP formula, they asked to see the EdBuild contract.   However, they were denied access to the contract until the state attorney general issued an opinion forcing the state to allow public access.  Why would state leaders deny the public information they were entitled to receive?  Why the secrecy?  Also, why did state leaders deliberately duck the public hearing to discuss the contract?  They initiated the hiring, so they should have been available to answer questions about the hiring.  Why wouldn’t they address the concerns of citizens face to face in the hearing?  Furthermore, why was the hearing cut short after 75 minutes?  Why were only a select few allowed to speak?  Why were people from the general public who had made arrangements to get off work to attend the meeting and address EdBuild officials unable to comment?  What were the motives behind the actions of state leaders?  What motivated them to be secretive and evasive?

The motive behind their actions was simple!  MAEP has been a pain in the side of state leaders and legislators for years, and they want it to go away.  Doing away with MAEP for a new formula or rewriting the old formula would reduce challenges to education funding as well as give Republican legislators added leverage in their quest to push forward with parent choice and privatization of public schools.  Rewriting the formula to include charter schools and vouchers as well as provide assistance to private schools and homeschools would seal the deal for state support of parent choice and privatization of public schools and open the door to ultimately dismantling public schools.

For state leaders in Jackson, dismantling public school education is the end game.  The secrecy they created around the hiring of EdBuild, along with their reluctance to be open and honestly address the concerns of the public regarding that hire, speaks volumes about their intent.  EdBuild’s January 2017 report only added coals to the fire.  In the report, the firm made several recommendations that, if adopted, could have dire consequences for public education in Mississippi.

First, EdBuild recommended Mississippi adopt a new student base cost.  Under that recommendation, the student base cost would not include an annual adjustment to account for inflation.  Without an adjustment for inflation, funding that may have been adequate initially would, over time, become grossly inadequate to support public schools.  Under the recommendation, increases in student costs would only be made at the discretion of the state legislature.  Based on the Mississippi Legislature’s history for  funding public education, the initial amount set for the student base cost would most likely remain the same indefinitely or more precisely forever.

In another recommendation, the consulting firm recommended the state decrease the state’s responsibility for funding public education by placing more of the burden on the local communities.  I imagine there was a great deal of back slapping and high fives in Republican chambers at the state capitol when they heard that recommendation.  When adopted, such a recommendation would significantly increase the amount of local taxes citizens pay in their communities to support local schools.  Under this recommendation, the burden to fund public school education would be greatly reduced at the state level and transferred to the local communities.  Locally, citizens would see significant increases in the amounts they pay for car tags, property taxes, and other personal taxes such as sales taxes.  The legislature would have less of a role in appropriating public education funds, but it is a sure bet they would maintain or even increase their authority to dictate how much local money individual school districts would have to funnel to charter schools, vouchers, and private schools/academies.

The EdBuild report also stated that [In Mississippi] “Ratios of students to guidance counselors, teachers, and librarians are all significantly lower than the national average.”  Therefore, EdBuild recommended the ratio of student to staff/faculty should be monitored closely and maintained at the national average of 16:1.  This recommendation would open the door to reduce the number of guidance counselors, teachers, and school librarians.  Based on the data reported by EdBuild, librarian positions would most likely be the first cut from public schools.

These are just a few of the EdBuild recommendations and their consequences if adopted.  There are other recommendations such as changing the definition of “poverty” and how it is calculated.  Presently, socioeconomic status is determined by “free and reduced lunches,” but under the EdBuild recommendation such status would be determined at least partially by the United States Census.  Since EdBuild has yet to run numbers to compare the impact of the new definition versus the old definition on individual school districts, it is unclear how such a change may impact schools.  However, one thing that is glaringly clear about this recommendation as well as the other recommendations is that it will not necessarily place more money into public school classrooms unless maybe the classroom conforms to the new definition of “poverty.”  That is strange since legislators say the primary reason a revision or new public education funding formula is needed is to put more money into ALL classrooms.  They claim public school classrooms are suffering under the MAEP formula.  Of course, anyone, not drinking the Kool-Aid, knows classrooms are suffering because they are annually underfunded by the Mississippi Legislature.

State leaders contend the challenge to adequately fund public education will become a thing of the past once the old MAEP formula is rewritten or a new funding law is written to take its place.  However, why should the citizens of Mississippi harbor any hope or expectations that legislators will follow a new or revised funding law, especially since funding will most likely remain at the Legislature’s discretion?  That is where EdBuild’s recommendations come into play.  A truth about the recommendations, that no one can dispute, is that if adopted, the recommendations will make it easier for the Legislature to continue to fund public education at nine figure deficits.  Under a revised or new formula, it will be much easier to hide or justify inadequate education funding.  At least, that is what the Republican leadership in Jackson is hoping to achieve by hiring EdBuild to recommend changes to the MAEP formula.

If EdBuild’s recommendations are adopted and implemented, within a few short years, no one will remember MAEP and its promise of adequate funding for public schools.  Nine figure deficits in public education will become the norm since funding will be tied to a cost factor that is perpetually locked.  As a result, the public will continue to wrongly associate struggling public schools with incompetence and mismanagement when in truth their struggles will more likely be the result of inadequate funding.

The end game is the desire for parent choice and privatization will escalate among the public, and the Republican leadership in Jackson will have won.  The major problem is thousands of poor and middle class children will be stranded within the crumbling infrastructure of the public school system unable to meet the selective demands of charter and private schools and without the means to take advantage of vouchers.  The end game for Mississippi is a cheap labor force, a status quo of the “haves” and the “have nots,” and an everlasting home at the bottom of prosperity.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 24, 2017

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Future School – Darcy’s Ashes

“Imagine with me a Mississippi where schools compete for students.”
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, 2016

“Bull S#$@!” Selena Smith, parent, 2036.

6:30 a.m. Thursday, May 22, 2036

A small unfinished oak box held Darcy’s ashes. Mica wiped a tear and placed her hand on the box. “Today is for you,” she said.

“Mica!” a voice called from the bedroom. “Get in here, now! You know we can’t be late.”

“Yes, Mama,” Mica answered. She kissed her fingers and touched them to the box, and ran to the bedroom.

Selena carefully brushed Mica’s hair. She dare not miss a single smoothing stroke. Her daughter’s future depended on perfection – not only her preparation for the interview, but her hair, and clothes as well. The Primary Interview Committee would be extremely meticulous; they would choose only the best of the best. “Are you nervous?” she asked.

“No,” Mica said. “Miss Brighterstar says I am ready.”

“Your teacher should know,” Selena agreed. Mica’s year one Observatory teacher raved about her academics and felt her chances for selection were better than good. It was the other factors beyond her daughter’s academics that bothered her. Factors such as raised by a single parent with a GED education and their family’s lack of standing in the community would weigh heavily in the Committee’s decision. It wasn’t right, but that was the way it was – right or wrong. She stopped combing and fought back tears. Why didn’t somebody stop them before it came to this? Near sighted politicians, old white men, grandstanding to ignorance had done this to her child. Lies too beautiful not to trust that spoke eloquently about choice and turning education over to the private sector had led America down a path of insanity and betrayal. Where was her choice as a parent now? What had involving the private sector in public education done for her child other than convert her humanity to a commodity?

Mica admired her dress in the mirror. It had been Darcy’s interview dress, which made it extra special even though the dress hem and sleeves were a little worn at the edges. The committee would never see the worn edges though; her mama hand sewed pink ribbons with neatly tied bows along the sleeves and dress hemline. She looked at the picture on the night stand next to the bed of Darcy wearing the dress minus the pick ribbons. Mama said she and Darcy could have been twins; she liked that, but she did not like the worry in her mama’s eyes.

Mama worried about the interview. Mica was not worried at all. She had been reading since age four, and although she struggled with the math introduced in year one Observatory School, she was confident she would be selected. In a class of forty students, she was the best reader and the sorting wall ranked her number two overall academically, fifth artistically, and twelfth athletically. Her best friend, Mijou, ranked number one in athletics, told her she ran like a girl. Mica was rather proud of that. She worried a little that they would most likely be sent to separate schools for their second learning cycle, but at least, they lived close enough to see each other on weekends and during holidays.

“Quit fidgeting,” her mama scolded.

Mica stood straight, and did her best to control her excitement. She could not wait to stand before the Committee. Today, she would make Mama and Darcy proud.

Selena looked at her daughter in the mirror – so brave and innocent. Darcy had also been full of bouncing confidence and innocence for her first interview. Like Mica, she was a strong student confident the Primary Interview Committee would select her. They did not. Quieter and withdrawn afterwards, she continued for six more learning cycles to prepare herself for the next interview, but she never regained the same energy and excitement she had shown for the first one. Selena did not realize the depth of her depression until a month before the Interview of Intermediates when she found her lifeless on the floor next to her bed, clutching the crumbled and worn non-selection letter from The Primary Interview Committee.

Selena blamed herself. A few months before Darcy’s interview, she learned many parents provided a dowry on behalf of their child to the committee. The dowry was not mandatory, but it was highly suggested. Her family and friends begged her to find a way to provide a dowry on Darcy’s behalf to the committee. They argued such a gift, certainly a sizable one, could make a difference who the committee selected or did not select, especially if the competition was close. Darcy’s teacher also recommended a dowry. However, at the time her meager salary barely payed the rent and utilities and put food on the table. Besides, based on her daughter’s grades and sorting rankings, she believed she was a shoo-in for selection. She would not repeat the same mistake. For the past two years, she had worked double shifts, borrowed from friends and family, and did whatever she needed to do to raise the money she prayed would make a difference for Mica. After losing Darcy, she would sell her soul to get Mica into one of the public subsidized charter schools.

Unlike public schools, the corporate charters and specialized academy charters had the best of everything – the best technology, the best facilities, the best resources, the best teachers, and the best students. These schools were the culminating victory of the Republican leadership who had pushed to privatize public school education for years. Privatization became complete in 2022 when private schools merged with charter schools to form Corporate Charters, Sports Academy Charters, and Art Academy Charters. These charters operated under private management and with private dollars subsidized by corporations and organizations such as Apple, HP, Chevron, Walmart, Disney, CNN, Fox News, NFL, NBL, MLB, Creative Artists, Paradigm Talent, and many others. With the newly merged charters on firm financial ground, the states rushed to slash public education spending. States also moved quickly to institutionalize charters as part of their publicly funded K–12 state systems. Next, they passed new laws to create equity funding formulas weighed in favor of the charters. In addition, the charters also continued to benefit from an open voucher system that originally allowed parents to redirect public school funds to the charter of their choice and then later to the charter that selected their child. Charters had every financial advantage, and they were free to develop and follow their own standards and guidelines as well, including overseeing their own accountability. All but bankrupt, public schools remained shackled by state and federal accountability as well as the double standards handed down by charter friendly state legislatures.

While the charters prospered, the public schools descended into chaos as their funding was cut by as much as half, their best teachers were recruited away, and the best students were swept up by the charters in state mandated year one and year seven selection interviews. Under a system originally established as parental choice and hailed as a potential free-market competition for students among schools, competition had ceased. In its place, a systematic means of suppression and entrapment of the poor, minorities, special needs children, and the unlucky had materialized. The American idea that “all men are created equal” lay buried under the exclusiveness of the publicly funded charter system.

Selena understood very little of this, but she understood the system had turned its back on her and her children. Education choice and selection had led to a system that catered to the white middle and upper class; a system that created a new segregated nation. The result was her children, whose only fault lay not in the color of their skin but being born poor, were relegated to second class citizens. The states may as well have posted the “Colored” signs from the mid twentieth century above public school doors. The only difference was this time such signs would read “Not Good Enough,” “Inferior,” or “Rejects.” Through the sorting process, the new American Reich culled the poor, blemished, flawed, and damaged children. The new segregation in America embraced and tolerated only perfection.

Public schools were left with the children the charter schools did not want. As a result, dropout rates soared, teachers taught from behind wire cages, and pre-teen and teen suicide increased dramatically in public schools. Instead of living the American dream of prosperity, public school children were doomed to a life of the “have nots.” For the sake of choice for a few and segregation for all, the only choice and hope for a better future for many was trampled and buried forever. The legacy of a free public education for all children, a legacy that was once the foundation of America’s greatest, lay smoldering. The ashes of children like Darcy spread across America like a cancerous sore. The epitome of political and social malpractice, K-12 public education lay in ruins.

8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 22, 2036

Mica stood before the Committee. She stood with her shoulders back and looked directly into the eyes of each committee member as her mama had schooled her. This was her day! She could feel it.

The chair of the committee smiled and said, “There’s no need to be nervous.”

“I’m not,” Mica said almost too bluntly. Catching herself, she added, “I am proud and excited to be here.” Mama would be pleased; all the committee members smiled and nodded. She grew more confident this was her day.

Selena nervously paced the corridor outside the interview hall. Every few minutes she sat in one of the folding chairs set up outside the door for anxious parents. Each time she sat, she dropped her face in her hands and cried and prayed, and then composing herself, she rose and paced some more. Exactly thirty minutes from the time she entered the interview hall, Mica stepped back into the corridor. Selena had never seen such light in her eyes.

“Mama!” she cried happily. “Mama, Mama, Mama! I did it! I know I made it!”

Selena wiped back tears and embraced her. “I am sure you did,” she said.

Mica was so excited she could hardly say everything she wanted to say quickly enough. “The people on the committee were so nice. They laughed and joked with me just like you do sometimes. One of them even said she liked my dress. They were so nice, and even funny. I had such a nice time.”

“I am so pleased,” Selena said hugging her close. “How did you do on the interview questions?”

“They didn’t ask any of the questions you and Miss Brighterstar rehearsed with me.”

Selena’s heart sank. “You were not asked any questions?”

“No,” Mica smiled. “They said they just wanted to visit.”

Selena squeezed her tighter. Tears flowed.

Mica felt her tenseness, and gently pushed back and looked at her. “Mama, what’s wrong?”

“I’m just happy,” Selena said wiping a tear from her cheek. “I love you so much, and I am so proud of you.”

Sunday, June 1, 2036

Mica did not eat for two days after the letter arrived in the mail. She stayed in her room, refusing to go out or talk to friends. When she spoke, it was only to say, “I’m sorry.” She did not cry, but blankly stared at the stack of books on the floor next to her bed. Books she had read preparing for her interview. She opened the letter and read it for at least the hundredth time.

Selena stayed vigilant refusing to leave her daughter alone for more than a few minutes at a time. She could still see her girls tearing madly into their letters when they arrived in the mail. “Thank you for such a wonderful interview,” the letters began. Selena saw the light flash in Darcy and Mica’s eyes. “We are excited to invite you . . . .” the letters continued. Tears flowed uncontrollably, as she saw her girls jumping and dancing around the room. “. . . to the Interview of Intermediates at the conclusion of your seventh learning cycle” the letters concluded.  Selena had watched helplessly as first Darcy and now Mica’s hopes and dreams collapsed and burned to ashes.

 

Give me one more chance before we crash and burn, give me one more chance before we reach the point of no return. Unknown

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD January 31, 2016

Initiative 42: Are You Fed Up with being Manipulated Yet?

Initiative 42 is the result of nearly 200,000 Mississippians signing petitions to have an initiative placed on the November ballot to amend the state Constitution.   If passed, this citizen led initiative will hold the Mississippi Legislature accountable for keeping its promise to fully fund public schools, which the Legislature has fulfilled only twice in the past 18 years. That should be simple enough; however, Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn have used their power and position to help confuse the public about the Initiative. Why? Such action is contrary to statements the Governor has made in the past regarding the public’s role in education. For example, in a December 2, 2014 article by The Associated Press, Governor Bryant said the “public” is in charge of education. But, if he truly believes the public is in charge of education, why is he campaigning against the charge of close to 200,000 Mississippians?   He has also advocated for parental choice in education. However, if he is pro parent choice, why does he oppose Initiative 42, which is supported by parents who have made a “choice” to stand up for public school funding? If he truly believes in parent choice and believes the public is in charge of education, why hasn’t he stepped aside and let the public decide the issue without his political interference?

The reason is simple! In maybe the truest statement by the Republican leadership since the Initiative 42 debate began, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves in an October 22 article by Valerie Wells, published in the Hattiesburg American, stated Initiative 42 is a struggle for power rather than funding. “It’s not about funding,” Reeves said. “It’s about power.” Although Republicans would like for the public to believe Initiative 42 is about Democrats versus Republicans, black versus white, or a power hungry chancery court judge in Hinds County usurping the sovereignty of the state, those are simply smokescreens! The truth is as Reeves stated, “It’s about power.” For the political leadership in Jackson, this issue is about the power and control of the people to hold the state Legislature accountable to the law versus the power and control of the state Legislature to do as it pleases with no boundaries or accountability.

Although fear of losing “power and control” may be at the heart of the Republican opposition to Initiative 42, we must be careful their struggle to maintain power does not overshadow the original purpose of the grassroots initiative led by the people of Mississippi. Power was the furthest thing from the minds of the citizens who signed the petitions to place Initiative 42 on the ballot. Their intent was to help struggling teachers reach all children – poor, middle class, rich, black, and white; their intent was to keep public education alive. Unfortunately, at times, that intent seems to have been lost beneath the clouds of political smoke swirling around such issues as top heavy school districts and school consolidation. We need to save those discussions for another day. Besides, no one in Jackson has any intentions of tackling those political time bombs in the near future; such issues are simply there to confuse and divide the public.

In an era where a good education is a prerequisite for success in life, the idea anyone would not support funding education is mind boggling. At a time when Mississippi needs everyone working together to pull our state from the clutches of poverty by creating an educated work force with more options than unemployment or a minimum wage existence, it is unbelievable we have elected officials who refuse to make education a priority. In a state as untrusting of government as Mississippi, it is beyond belief the citizens would tolerate a governor and state legislators who believe they are above the law. At a time when the public has the opportunity to remind the state Legislature that they are not only in charge of public education as Governor Bryant says, but they are in charge of their elected representatives in Jackson as well, it is unthinkable politicians might actually get their way and not be held accountable to the law.

As a state, we should be ashamed for having this debate. It is disgraceful some would put politics above the needs of our children. It is appalling some people look for excuses not to support education rather than look for reasons to support it. It is disappointing Mississippi citizens needed to sign petitions to put an initiative on the ballot to force elected officials to do their jobs and follow the law. And, it is reprehensible public officials would use or condone the use of half-truths, fabrications, and scare tactics to misguide the public. It is unfortunate, but the current struggle for power and education funding resembles a throwback to the Mississippi of the 1950’s and 1960’s rather than the new enlightened Mississippi we have struggled to become since those dark days.

In spite of this apparent throwback, we are a more enlightened people! We have made tremendous strides since the 50’s and 60’s, but as the Initiative 42 issue has shown, we still have a long way to go in regard to our attitudes toward education, race, and our future. Too much of our past biases still lurk in who we are as a state. Hopefully, additional time will further eradicate those prejudices from us – at least from our children. Nevertheless, I believe for the most part Mississippians are good people who strive to do what is right. We are proud people often recognized as the most benevolent state in the nation! Mississippians are quick to come to the aid of others, whether they are in this country or countries halfway around the world. Mississippians have always generously given to those in need. It so happens, our children are the ones in need this time. It is time we looked in our own backyard and shared our benevolence with our own family. It is time we stood by our children and their teachers; there is no better place to share your generosity and compassion than with those who live in your backyard.

I pray the people of Mississippi will stand up for Initiative 42 and not be led astray by professional politicians with political agendas that often exclude what is best for our state. With Initiative 42, public school education has a chance to be funded as required by law; without it, the chances are slim and none. If you don’t want to vote for Initiative 42, that is your right, but if that is your choice, why not at least do the next best thing and vote those politicians committed to sabotaging public education out of office? Citizens concerned for education and the future of Mississippi need to send a message one way or the other that we are fed up with political manipulation not only at the federal level but at the state level as well.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD. October 29, 2015