Sunday, April 16, 2017

The push for privatization continues at the state and federal level

The NY budget was signed, sealed and delivered last Monday - eight days past the deadline.

We dodged one bullet in that the Assembly managed to block lifting the charter school cap, which would have been disastrous for NYC.  Yet Foundation aid, designed to go primarily to  high-needs public schools, was short-changed once again -- with a mere $700 million added statewide.  This was less than the $900 million proposed by the Republican/IDC-led Senate, and far less than either the $1.4 billion put forward by the Democratic-led Assembly or the $1.8 billion increase recommended by the Board of Regents.  

Foundation aid was established after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was settled, requiring that NY funds public schools equitably.  About $3.8 billion is owed districts around the state in additional foundation aid, according to the formula, according to the NY state 
Association of School Business Officers, $4.3 billion according to the Alliance for Quality Education
Governor Cuomo not only has refused to fully fund Foundation Aid, he actually proposed eliminating it altogether starting in FY 2019 -- which thankfully, even the GOP-led State Senate refused to consider.

At the same time, funding for charter schools was increased by $50 million, while the supplement that NYC must pay to charters to pay for their rent in private space was boosted to 30% per charter student -- which will cost the DOE an estimated $8 million above what they currently must spend on charter leases.  Already, NYC pays more than $1.7 billion per year for charters for operating aid, and $40 million on leases, and this will increase that amount.

This is evidence yet again of preferential treatment for NYC charters, where we have the most overcrowded public schools in the state.  There seems to be little or no concern about the fact that currently 550,000 NYC public school students are jammed into overcrowded facilities, according to DOE data. 

Why the insistence on guaranteeing more funding and space to NYC charter schools by the Governor and the Republican-led Senate?  Is it the huge financial contributions made to these politicians from pro-charter groups such as New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which spent $5.2 million electing Republican State Senators,  or the vast amounts received by Cuomo from the same bunch of pro-charter hedge funders ? 

Fred LeBrun of the Times-Union said it best in explaining the influence of the charter lobby in Albany and elsewhere:
It's not the charter schools I referenced above that hold the power, and certainly not the 122,000 or so young New Yorkers who attend them, predominantly in New York City. It's the relative few billionaire hedge fund investors in charters looking for the return on their investment who would have the ability to hold up our budget until they get theirs. Because they in turn have become generous contributors to the governor and the Republican Senate. Again, the political donors benefit directly from the actions the governor and senators take on their behalf.....  
I can hear the charter crowd screaming that they are also public schools, because it says so in the legislation creating them. That's a lot of hooey.... They are private schools masquerading as public schools. And until the day comes, if ever, that you the taxpayer vote on the boards running charters funded in your school district, and yearly vote where every dollar is to be spent, as happens across the state with real public schools, then charters are bogus public schools.
At the same time we are fighting the Wall Street privateers in NY, the Trump/DeVos regime want to drastically slash funding for public schools while expanding federal support to charters and private schools.  For more on what this means, see the invaluable resource  School Privatization Explained recently released by the Network for Public Education. 

It includes 13 different fact sheets that separate fact from fiction, on issues ranging from "Are charter schools truly public schools?" and "Do charter schools get better academic results than public schools?" to "Are online charter schools good options for families?

The Trump administration is considering a plan to allow federal tax credits to be granted to wealthy individuals who subsidize private and religious schools.  NPE explains how these tax credits, already authorized in 17 states, are really vouchers by a different name. In fact, they may be worse than vouchers in that in some states, wealthy individuals and corporations can actually make a profit from donating to private schools, taking a 100% credit off their state taxes while claiming a deduction off their federal taxes at the same time. 

For more on this, check out Kevin Welner's explanation of how the benign-sounding tax credits are really "vouchers on steroids" or the podcast Have you Heard?, which dissects this horrific scam in detail.

The NPE website also features an interactive map, showing which states use which particular schemes to encourage the diversion of public funds towards charters and private schools.

Meanwhile, the privatization lobby and the elected officials they support claim to be encouraging parent "choice" -- though the first choice of most parents is a sufficiently-resourced neighborhood public school that provides their children with small classes and a well-rounded education.  

And yet these are the very conditions that so many of these officials actively undermine through their refusal to fund our public schools equitably.  See how Donald Trump wants to totally eliminate Title II funds, used in NYC to lower class size, or Randi Weingarten on Trump's "Indecent Proposal" in the Huffington Post. More on how you can help stop these cuts from happening soon.

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