What Trump Could and Wants to Do to Disadvantage Disadvantaged Kids

April 3, 2017

Having canvassed the big problems with public funding for private school vouchers, I’ll turn to what I’ll call some backdoor maneuvers, plus other ways Trump’s budget would further disadvantage disadvantaged kids..

Backdoor Federal Funding for Private School Choice

Trump wouldn’t have to have to put all federal funding for private school enrollment into the spending part of his budget. He could propose tax credits, taking a leaf from state playbooks. Like all other credits, that’s spending through the tax code.

But it doesn’t seem to grow the government — a big bad from the right-wing perspective, including Trump’s, of course.

In fact, as the Tax Policy Center says, it seems to do the opposite, without really doing so. In this case, the revenues lost could instead be plowed into programs to foster educational equality.

Four states award tax credits to parents for private schools tuition—and two of these for other expenses also. The credits, of course, benefit only parents who owe state taxes. Federal tax credits would do the same.

And as we know from former Presidential candidate Romney’s gaffe, many lower-income people don’t owe federal income taxes. But, as I early said, the voucher system tilts toward well-off families.

Seventeen states offer tax credits to organizations that donate money for scholarships to private schools, including those operated by religious organizations.

This is a clever way of getting around what many view as a breach of the First Amendment prohibition against any law establishing a religion, including one that promotes it.

The Supreme Court nonetheless let Arizona’s tax credits stand, but the narrow majority based its decision on legal technicality, not the substantive complaint.

The federal tax code already allows filers to take such donations as deductions, if the money goes to a non-profit. But Trump could jawbone prospective donors, dangle promises, celebrate the persuaded, etc. Very much in his dealmaker mode.

Backdoor School Choice in the Budget

Trump’s budget blueprint includes $1 billion more for Title I of the Education Act — now named the Every Child Succeeds Act.

The blueprint says it’s “dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system … that enables Federal, State and local funding to follow the student to the school of his or her choice.”

This would fundamentally undermine the purpose of Title I and the way all versions have achieved it. As things stand now, basic grant funds go to schools districts based on the percent of poor and near-poor children they have.

So they help provide equal educational opportunity — in part because it costs more to educate poor children and in part because public schools in high-poverty neighborhoods generally have less to spend. Like all public schools, they’re funded largely through property taxes, rFederal grants and state funding notwithstanding.

Trump would shift funds from high-poverty schools by having a student’s portion go to any publicly-funded school s/he enrolled in, including one a wealthy community. That much less then for a school that needs it most—and for the children left behind.

Title I portability, as it’s called, was a controversial issue during the effort to revise No Child Left Behind. In the interests of bipartisanship — and one would like to think, commitment to the fundamental purpose of Title I —  members of the responsible Senate committee agreed not to include it.

At the time, the National Coalition for Public Education warned that proposals like Trump’s version portability were intended to make initiating private school vouchers easier. No reason, I think, to view Trump’s differently, despite his first relatively low-cost stab.

Other Disadvantages for Disadvantaged Kids

The Trump budget would, among other things, eliminate funding for after-school programs — a larger cut than the extra he’d commit to Title I.

The programs vary a lot, but as a whole they shore up students’ academic skills, e.g., by pairing them with tutors, increase their interest in learning by engaging them in intriguing activities like computer coding.

They also foster their health through team sports, other physical exercise and free or nearly-free snacks, nutritionally balanced according to guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which subsidizes them. For some children, it’s the last food they’ll get for the day.

And on top of all this, they provide free, supervised care so that parents can work after the school closing bell rings. The alternative, would cost, on average, $67 a week  — and a whole lot more in some states.

But even the average would cost a parent with two school-age kids more than she’d earn at the federal minimum wage rate. So she’d forfeit the pay — another way this piece of Trump’s budget would disadvantage disadvantaged kids.

Also proposed for zero-funding is a program that helps fund “the quality and effectiveness” of teachers and principals and “provide low-income and minority students greater access to them.”

While not only for teachers in high-poverty schools, ESSA gives heavier weight to districts with these schools than its predecessor, as well it should. Recent studies confirm what many have said for a long time.

By all major measure of teacher quality, e.g., teacher experience, scores on licensing exams, the least qualified teachers are the most likely to have the responsibility for educating students disadvantaged by poverty and/or color.

So far as “access” is concerned, it seems to mean reducing class size, judging from how school districts used their recent grants. That, of course, enables teachers to give individual kids more attention, which means, among other things, that they pay attention instead of acting up in the back of the room.

Overly-large classes may help account for the teacher experience quality gap. Teachers in high-poverty schools get frustrated because they’ve got too many kids to teach, especially given the disadvantages they bring to the classroom, e.g., fewer or no books at home, fewer words heard, stress, hunger.

So the teachers find other professional opportunities or they transfer to a better-off school — a privilege they gain with seniority that a higher percent recently took advantage of than teachers in low-poverty schools.

Both avenues out leave openings that seem likely to be filled by a new cohort of less-qualified teachers. We thus have still another way that low-income and other disadvantaged students would lose out if the Trump budget prevails.

More to Come?

The blueprint, of course, is merely a preview. The Education Department would lose $9.2 billion — 13.5% less than what it has today, when the spending caps in the Budget Control Act have constricted funding.

So we’re sure to see more and larger cuts when he’s signed off on a full-fledged proposed budget. And you can bet they’ll fall heaviest, directly and indirectly, on poor and near-poor students.


What’s Wrong With “School Choice” Vouchers?

March 30, 2017

School choice is back in the news, thanks to Trump’s choice of school choice advocate — some would say zealot — and more, recently his budget plan. The hot-button part is federally-funded support for parents to send their children to private schools.

Most people understand this to mean vouchers, though we might see other proposals as well. This is one of the things I learned from a webcasted speech and panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress.

Those who know CAP know the event aimed to expose the problems with vouchers. And it did — well enough, I think, to move anyone on the fence off to the opposition side.

Senator Patty Murray, the most senior Democrat on the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee led off by summarizing a lengthy letter she’d just sent to colleagues. The panelists filled in with supporting research and those other proposals we might see.

Big takeaways here. A followup soon on another way Trump might try to fund private school choice, plus some further threats targeted specifically high-poverty schools and their students.

Accountability and Transparency

The Every Child Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, gives states more flexibility in how they assess students’ mastery of three basic skill and knowledge areas — reading/language arts, math and science.

They’ve got flexibility they didn’t have to set standards for assessing schools, though they must include those test scores and, for high schools, graduation rates. They’ve also got more flexibility in what to do about schools that consistently don’t measure up.

But test at least those basic skills they must, at the same grade-level intervals and to virtually all the students in those grades.

And both they and school districts must still publicly report, among other things, the tests results broken out, e.g., by race-ethnicity, with a disability, whether disadvantaged by living in poverty or near-poverty.

They must also now report other relevant data, e.g., broken-out suspension and expulsion rates, percent and number of teachers who lack experience and/or the customary formal credentials.

ESSA is the latest version of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. So it applies only to state education agencies and to schools districts they distribute their share of federal funds to.

Private schools don’t get any So they can test students whenever and however choose — or not at all. They can inform parents or not. Even if they do, parents have no reliable way to know whether their children are learning more or less than they would in a regular public or charter school.

Quality Education

The freedom private schools have from learning standards extends to staffing choices. They don’t have to hire only teachers who have state teaching credentials.

State requirements differ, but they include a four-year college degree, including courses in education (or a major for elementary school) and a major or minor in a subject they’ll teach.

And only about half of the 20 voucher programs that the General Accountability Office surveyed had any sort of accreditation from a state or other established quality assurance organization.

What this means is that students may graduate, but discover they can’t get into college without completing a GED. Or, as in a case Murray’s letter cites, can’t transfer to the next grade level in a public school.

Equal Education Guarantees

All regular public and publicly-funded charter schools must comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act — a federal law that requires them to ensure that every disabled child has a free and individually-appropriate education.

It’s, as Murray’s letter says, basically a civil rights law, since it expands and spells out in detail how schools must ensure the equal educational opportunity guarantee in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Private schools don’t have to comply with IDEA, except those in the District of Columbia that enroll students with vouchers because they’re federally-funded — another unwanted intervention in local policymaking and mostly a channel of support to religious schools.

They would nationwide if federally-funded, as Trump’s budget envisions and his Secretary of Education dearly wants, notwithstanding her earlier view that IDEA requirements would “be best left to states.”

But what we know about private schools that enroll students with state-funded vouchers should, at the very least, make us suspicious. Private schools have, for example, rejected children with vouchers because of disabilities — or deterred parents from enrolling them.

Not long ago, only a minuscule fraction of children with disabilities were enrolled through vouchers in Wisconsin’s private voucher schools. And the schools warned they’d not provide the level of services IDEA requires.

In Florida, parents of children with scholarships exclusively for those with disabilities must sign away all their IDEA rights.

Federally-funded vouchers would in theory, if not in practice at the very least give children with disabilities an education more appropriate for them than some state programs. But that wouldn’t resolve the equality issues.

Title IX expressly exempts religious schools from complying with its prohibition against sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs so far as that would run up against their tenets.

This means, among other things, that they can have sex-segregated curricula based on based on their beliefs about gender roles, different conduct codes and fewer or no athletic opportunities geared to women students’ interests and abilities. They can also, of course, rampantly discriminate against LGBT students.

Other Inequities

Vouchers won’t make private schools affordable for lower-income parents unless they’re virtually budget-busters.

State-funded voucher programs were worth, on average, $2,000–$5,000 last year. Private school tuition alone averaged about twice the higher range of this average. And then come books, uniforms and probably other costs.

So vouchers don’t truly mean choice for parents who can’t substantially supplement them. On the contrary, studies of voucher programs in four states found that most of the money went to parents who already had enough to have their kids in private schools.

Finally, they’re worthless for kids in many rural communities, where even the nearest public school is often far away—and a private school even further.

But the public schools provide transportation. They’ll have less money to spend for that, as well as other things if the federal government funds vouchers. The add-on in Trump’s budget doesn’t change this. Without it, there’d be more money for public schools.