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School-vouchersICYMI, be sure to check out education reporter Lindsay Wagner’s story this morning over on the main Policy Watch site: “School vouchers: A second look at fraud and abuse.”

As Wagner reports, the disturbing stories from Arizona, Wisconsin and Louisiana — where standards for vouchers are actually tougher in many instances than North Carolina’s — are all-too-common.

For instance:

Arizona implemented a private school tuition tax credit program in 1997. That program was designed to aid low-income families to take advantage of private schools.

A report by the national advocacy group People for the American Way found that over a three-year period, the Arizona scheme has cost the state more than $55 million in funds that have gone largely to subsidize private and religious education for middle- and upper-income families.

And then there’s this:

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal has found that Wisconsin’s taxpayers have lost $139 million dollars over the past ten years to private schools that have received funds from the state’s voucher program but were ultimately excluded from participating, thanks to their failure to meet standards relating to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

One of the most interesting parts of the Pro Publica report  in the News & Observer today about the huge profits from taxpayer money made by charter school operator Baker Mitchell is the story of how Mitchell lobbied the General Assembly for a tax break for himself and then denied it.

Mitchell was intimately involved in seeing the bill through as chairman of a pro-charter lobbying group, the NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Asked about the tax break and whether he had pushed for provisions that would directly benefit him, Mitchell told ProPublica, “There was another group that pushed that through. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

But a lobbyist for Mitchell’s group, Debbie Clary, said, “It was our bill. I was the only lobbyist working on it.” Clary added, “The person most engaged was Baker (Mitchell).”

Whoops. It’s bad enough that Mitchell is raking in millions in taxpayer money with his questionable operation and apparently violating the law by not releasing financial details about his schools.

He at least ought to own up to his role in passing the legislation that is helping make him a wealthy man.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the Education Writers Association blog has an interesting story about teacher attitudes toward Common Core. Here is the opening:

In a new survey, teachers say they’re feeling more confident about using the Common Core State Standards in their classrooms — an optimistic finding that comes even as recent polls suggest dwindling public support for the initiative. Read More

Commentary
Driver's ed

Photo: WRAL.com

The practical, everyday examples of the the General Assembly’s and Governor McCrory’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to education funding keep emerging. As Chris Fitzsimon explained last week, one of those areas is driver education — an area in which the very lives of North Carolinians have been placed at greater risk because the tax-cuts-over-common-sense-spending approach.

This morning’s Fayetteville Observer editorial weighs in on the subject just a couple of days after Raleigh’s News & Observer did likewise. Here’s the Observer:

Educators would like the General Assembly to restore the $26 million in driver-ed dollars to prevent a crisis next year. Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till says the district will come up with the additional $700,000 it needs if the state doesn’t act. Not offering driver ed isn’t an option under state law. But Till warns that money will have to come from somewhere else.

Lawmakers could decide to go a different direction and eliminate the requirement that schools offer driver education. That would alleviate the funding shortage. Given some of the moves from the legislature in recent years, it wouldn’t even be surprising. But it would be incredibly shortsighted. Driver education makes for better drivers and safer streets. The best way forward is to restore state money.

And here’s this weekend’s N&O:

A bad car accident Monday on Capital Boulevard in which one teenager was killed and four were hurt was not the only accident involving teens in recent weeks. The accidents have prompted the N.C. School Boards Association to call for more funding for driver education.

Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it, the Associated Press is reporting new and disturbing news (click here to see the article in the Greensboro News & Record) about the impact that the nation’s mushrooming economic divide between the rich and everyone else is having on education:

Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they’ll count the ways:

Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.

Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:

Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures.

Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.

“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.

The article continues:

The disparity in spending patterns creates a hurdle for reducing income inequality through additional education — the preferred solution of many economists.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose exploration of tax data helped expose the wealth gap, has argued that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.”

In short, the article provides a sobering confirmation of what critics have long been saying about the conservative movement’s successful, decades-long campaign to disinvest in and privatize our public education system — namely, that it’s expediting the demise of our middle class society.