HEJE Overview 8-28-17: Education + Illinois Education Update (Updated)

It’s v-day in Illinois: the vote on the evidence-based model for school funding + a sleeper back-door voucher (aka, “scholarship tax credit”) provision is set to go before the Illinois House. Twenty years of discussion, three-four yeas of detail work by ed policy specialists, a year of actually whacking out the wording, and a sleeper bill.

Hey, welcome to Illinois politics!

  • San Antonio shows us what we already knew about the value of Pre-K

In 2011, while mayor of San Antonio,  Julian Castro (who later served as HUD Secretary in the second Obama administration), campaigned for—and won—an agreement to raise city taxes by 1/8 of a cent in order to fund 4 large feeder pre-k schools at the four corners of the city. The program, called “Pre-K 4 SA”, has posted impressive results during its first four years of operation.

A word about the curriculum: “Pre-K 4 SA’s curriculum is based on decades of research on how younger kids learn—ways that don’t look much like traditional school at all. Pre-K 4 SA kids tend gardens, make art and raise money for charities. They learn through play— scooping sand into jars, rolling balls down slopes. Teachers ask each of them questions, to turn their play into teachable moments.”

During the planning stage, researchers looked at three possible focuses for raising the educational achievements of children: “spending on early childhood provided the best return on investment. A high-quality pre-kindergarten program sets up poorer kids to perform at grade level by third grade, the research showed, which increases their chances of graduating from high school.”

  • Emily Talmage details her own experience in a very different kind of school

Diane Ravitch picks up Talmage’s story of her interview for a job in a Brooklyn charter school (link to full blog post here).

“I took the job – foolishly – and soon found out what this ‘hard work’ meant: scholars, as we called them, were expected to be 100% compliant at all times. Every part of the nine-hour school day was structured to prevent any opportunity for deviance; even recess, ten-minutes long and only indoors, consisted of one game chosen for the week on Monday.”

“There weren’t any white children at the school, but there I was – a white teacher, snapping at a room full of black children to get them to respond, in unison, to my demands.…

Everyone in the nation is talking about our racist history, but do people know what type of racism is happening today, beneath our noses, under the banner of education reform?”

And “Why aren’t more people demanding that these racist institutions and policies be taken down?”

Ah, therein lies a tale.

  • Valerie Strauss presents an analysis of Ben Carson’s characterization of poverty as a “mindset”

Strauss is the WaPo education writer, but she recently hosted Richard Rothstein’s piece “Is Anybody Home at HUD?”—as did DeedSpeakOut—to discuss the Sec of HUD’s “poverty as a mindset” stance towards the people whom his agency is tasked to serve.

Here’s Carson’s statement (from a few months ago; it’s been making the rounds since then): “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mind-set, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.”

Strauss is interested in this topic for the same reason we are—poor children don’t do as well in school as wealthy children do—and there are two sides to the issue: “Proponents of this kind of reform have said poverty can’t be fixed right away and that teachers too often use poverty as an excuse for doing a poor job helping students succeed. Critics say the effect of living in poverty on children is profound and that school reform programs that don’t address the consequences cannot fundamentally succeed for most children.”

Rothstein’s entire article (originally on medium.com) is republished by permission.

  • Guess whose public schools are more likely to be closed?

Peter Greene read a report from CREDO (the Center for Research on Education Outcomes), and despite the organization’s pro-reform bent, researchers didn’t mince words:

(from the report itself): “Closures of low-performing schools were not blind to socioeconomic status or race/ethnicity of the students who were enrolled. In both the charter and TPS sectors, and particularly in the lowest ventile of achievement, low-performing schools with a larger share of black and Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than similarly performing schools with a smaller share of disadvantaged minority students. Moreover, the closure rates for higher-poverty low-performing TPS in the bottom two ventiles surpassed the rates for lower-poverty TPS of similarly low performance. These observed inequivalent tendencies raise the issue of equity in decision-making about school closures.” [note: TPS = “traditional public schools”]

“…our evidence suggests that closures of low-performing schools were biased by non-academic factors. In particular, closures were tilted toward the most disadvantaged schools such as the ones with higher concentrations of students in poverty and higher shares of black and Hispanic students, which raises the issue of equity in the practice of closures.” [emphasis added]

To sum up: if a child is black, brown, or poor, his/her school has a higher chance of being closed.

As Greene puts it: “But the staggering bottom line here remains– we are closing schools that serve black, brown and poor students because they serve black, brown and poor students. How is that even remotely okay?” 

Answer: It’s not. And no amount of charter-izing or voucher-izing poor public schools and their students is going to make it okay.

  • Arizona’s been in the voucher-and-tax-credit game for twenty years—and Arizona citizens have had enough of it. A voucher expansion bill (SB 1431), which would have given vouchers to parents for private schooling, homeschooling, and “religious education” (meaning unclear) is being vigorously opposed by a citizens’ group called Save Our Schools Arizona (twitter = @arizona_sos; website = http://saveourschoolsarizona.org/), which in three months gathered 100,000 signatures from their fellow citizens calling for a repeal of the controversial bill.

“Political insiders were quick to dismiss us. They said that the controversial law was more of the same, nothing to get hot and bothered about, and that Save Our Schools would turn out to a political blip in a state where residents are ready to walk away from their public schools. They were wrong.”

Illinois could—probably will—have to take a page out of Arizona’s citizen activism book in the future.

  • And lest we forget one of the original motivations (the key motivation, perhaps) behind the voucher movement

An overview of the origins of the modern voucher movement in Prince Edward County, Virginia during the Jim Crow era, followed by a fast-forward to 2017 and the Secretary of Education’s plans for federal support of vouchers: “Their budget proposal would slash the Education Department’s budget by more than 13 percent, or $9 billion, while providing $1.25 billion for school choice, including $250 million for private school vouchers.(emphasis added)

Back to Prince Edward County and its two public high schools: “the well-funded Farmville High School for white children and the severely underfunded Robert Russa Moton High School for black children. The latter was not only overcrowded but also lacked a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a locker room, and a proper heating system.”

A strike by Moton students “attracted the attention of the state’s NAACP lawyers, who filed suit in 1951 against the County in Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. The plaintiffs in Davis, along with others in NAACP school desegregation suits filed in Clarendon County, South Carolina; New Castle County, Delaware; and in Washington, D.C., would eventually be added under the umbrella of a larger desegregation case headlined by Topeka, Kansas’ Brown v. Board of Education.”

The Brown v. Board of Education was resisted, massively:Led by Harry Byrd, the U.S. senator representing Virginia, massive resistance was a movement against federally mandated integration, particularly in public schools. Byrd’s plan allowed for Virginia to flex the power of the purse in deciding who could receive a quality public education. The state Legislature passed a law allowing it to revoke funds from and even close districts and schools that integrated black and white students, leading to school closures in Charlottesville and Norfolk.”

And it went downhill from there –and led to the situation we see today.

Illinois Update: Education bill edition (4 pm CT)

The bill (in compromise form, re-christened SB1947) is set to be voted on today—we’ll provide updates—but we took a first pass at the published version, and have posted the following on capitolfax:

“Humble question to all previous commenters: Has anyone actually read the bill itself? Just asking. [note: we don’t think anybody had, actually – no responses, of course]

It’s been reworked considerably from the original proposal – down to 75% credit (from 100%), sunset provision (5 years), tight rules on both donors / recipient 501 c(3)s (with penalties)/ spending limits (95% has to go to actual tuition/fees, which means only 5% to PR), 75% has to be spent each year, recipient 501 c(3)s, should they lose certification, have to pass funds along to another organization(s) for disbursal…

For students: they will be closely tracked (recipients required to sit state exams and have their results reported), increments for ELLs, SpEd, etc. Not clear whether SpEd students will be allowed to retain IEPs. An agency will be retained to evaluate results annually – let’s see who is hired to do this.

Students must come from so-called “priority” (“focus”) districts, have a family income not to exceed 300% of FPL. Siblings have priority (as is usual at private schools).

A nod to geographical diversity to try to avoid concentration of scholarships in Chicago (this will happen, but at least it’s acknowledged).

As scholarship tax credit plans go, it’s pretty tight – could be a lot worse.

While I am strongly opposed in principle to such programs, the ed policy people have done good work, so, kudos.

And since hold harmless stays, districts which lose students to Catholic (and other) private schools won’t be penalized. That’s a big win.

Anyway, this from a first pass.

The public – and CTU, and Raise Your Hand – have the next five years to debate the issue of scholarship tax credits. We’ll see what Illinoisans have to say.

Contrary to my inclination as someone who is opposed to tax credits, I’d say “go for it.”

And let the public debate begin, immediately.”

Politics means compromise – we’re strongly opposed to scholarship tax credits for private schools (which in Illinois = “Catholic schools in Chicago”), but the rewrite is tight. We see a certain level of accountability inserted; we see disbursing 501c(3)’s being compelled to account for every penny they receive and disburse to students for use at schools; we see recipients (private schools) being held to account for every penny they spend—and actually compelled to spend 95% on actual tuition/fees costs, which will limit advertising) we see increments (%) for English Language Learners (ELLS), special education students, and gifted students –and we see a 5-year sunset provision.

So, Illinois—coming 20 years late to the game, and thus, untutored in the consequences of vouchers—will have five years to debate scholarship tax credits for private (primarily, religious) schools.  That’s a capacious window.

Is this a tax break for Illinois millionaires? Yep.

Is this a bailout of the state’s (i.e., Chicago’s) failing Catholic schools? Yep.

Will it solve Chicago’s (and other poor district’s) education inequity? Nope, no way.

But it could have been worse.

DeedSpeakOut, as a private citizen, is unwilling to compromise public education principles.

But this is Illinois politics, and compromise—like it or not—is the name of the game.

We’re not happy, but we’re not desperately unhappy.

It’s a qualified victory for the Secretary of Education—not exactly what she and ALEC wanted—but scholarship tax credits will enter one of ALEC’s target states in a relatively big way.

*Update One (4:45 pm CT): First vote failed, 46-61.

**Update Two: House about to vote on override of SB1 (6 pm CT),  override fails 45-63.

***Update Three: House votes a second time on SB 1947 (around 6:30 CT), passes 73-34.


Illinois did it. The state no longer has the most inequitable funding of its schools in the United States. This victory came at a steep price, but the price could have been heavier.

Once again, Madigan and his statehouse colleagues brought it home. Repeat after us: Michael Madigan does statehouse politics  better than anybody, ever.

This is what the caucusing was all about–and the leadership meetings too, probably. Contents of bill (especially the Amendment, nicknamed the “Invest in Kids Act”) were crafted by the bill-writers at four leaders’ instructions to get the whole bill through. Enough modifications to pass muster and with two votes to spare.

It will be interesting to see analyses in the next couple of days–of particular interest to us is how the voting went down in Chicago districts most likely to be affected by student departures to private (mostly, Catholic) high schools nearby.

Scholarship tax credits just became a litmus test for the ILGA 2018 races–and for the Dem candidates for governor.

Remember: SB 1947 passed the IL House today; Senate vote is scheduled for tomorrow. Cullerton (Senate Majority Leader) will deliver–he has a super-majority in any case. And there will be R crossovers, in all likelihood, to more than make up for D defections.

Stay tuned–hopefully there will be some in-depth analysis of the horse-trading that went on in the past week or so.







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