Education is a Right
Stimulus Package Education Funds
Carrots, Sticks and the Crisis of Legitimacy
Since being appointed Secretary of Education by President Obama, Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education have initiated a massive media campaign of interviews, speeches, and news and department press releases, (see sample of quotes below). The media blitz focuses on how the Obama Administration will use funds from the stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA) to further its agenda for education. Duncan has emphasized that he will use the power given to him to disperse, or withhold billions in funds to states and local schools to implement “the President’s vision.” (See FYI below for facts on ARRA Educational funds.)
Key to this campaign is the role given to “incentives” at the disposal of executives, such as Duncan, who arbitrarily use the funds to support, as he puts it, “what they like.” “We have significant carrots and sticks,” Duncan emphasizes. This arbitrary use of large sums of the public treasury by executive and unelected officials signals a significant concentration of power and a challenge to the constitutional powers given to states. But one cannot understand the drive to increase executive power and the secretary’s emphasis on “carrots and sticks,” absent an understanding of the opposition to “the President’s vision” for education.
As outlined in speeches by both Obama and Duncan (reported in Voice of Revolution April 16 update) the administration is calling for more high-stakes testing, academic sweatshops for teachers and students in the form of corporate run charter schools and more mayoral control of urban school districts. The result will be much less public control over education. Yet, by the U.S. Department of Education’s own accounts, and by the accounts chronicled in decades worth of independent research on school reform, not to mention people’s own direct experience with high stakes testing, charters and similar “reforms,” none of these methods have served to improve education. Indeed, for most people across the country, the quality of education has continually worsened.
So why the continued pursuit of “reforms” that have not served the aims for which they were officially established? Why the emphasis on “carrots and sticks” or what amounts to outright bribery?
While Duncan misuses the carrot and stick idiom (as it refers to a “carrot on a stick,” where a driver would tie a carrot on a string to a long stick and dangle it in front of the donkey, just out of its reach, to induce the donkey forward) the content of bribery is clear.
To bribe means to “persuade (someone) to act in one’s favor by a gift of money or other inducement.” Importantly, bribery only makes sense in the face of a norm, standard or other basis for refusal to act in a manner desired by the person offering the bribe. What is very significant from the political point of view is that, as a form of persuasion, bribery does not rest on reasoned argument, the use of facts and logic to justify a proposed course of action. At the level of federal law and policy, bribery is a form of persuasion that rests on the open assertion of authority against public opinion. One would not need to bribe educators and locally elected officials into doing what was inherently in their interest. The use of the public treasury to bribe educators is an open admission that the path being imposed by the ruling elite cannot be justified.
Thus, the use of ARRA funds to compel educators to take up “reforms” that have already been discredited as ineffective and contrary to voters’ demands for change signals a profound legitimacy crisis. People are firmly against more of the same Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush cooperate education agenda. There is growing opposition within official organizations to the wrecking of public education. The National School Boards Association has, for example, continually opposed mayoral control as both ineffective and anti-democratic. Every major education research organization, such as the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association, has opposed the use of high-stakes testing. Only a few weeks ago, Warrick County (Indiana) Superintendent Brad Schneider criticized the Bush-sponsored No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as “mind-boggling” and “absurd.” And, public opinion polls and ballot measures routinely show broad support for public education against privatization.
The transformation of public funds into “carrots and sticks” to be used against students, educators and parents must be rejected as an illegitimate use of executive power against public opinion. It must also be recognized as an admission on the part of the elite that they have no solutions to the problems in education and society. From this it should be concluded that the people have the solutions, starting with the defense of their rights, and that the fight for their political empowerment is key to improving education for all students.
No to carrots, no to sticks!
Arne Duncan on Using “Carrots and Sticks” to Increase Federal Control of Local Schools
“If folks are playing shell games, if folks are operating in bad faith, it puts their second chance at billions of dollars in jeopardy,” he said. “We have significant carrots and sticks.” — Arne Duncan, April 15, Chicago Tribune.
In an April 1 Washington Post interview under the banner of “New Voices of Power,” staff writer Lois Romano asks Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “So you have all this money, but, in a sense, aren’t you a little bit powerless because, in the end, the States are going to decide how to spend the money?”
Duncan: “Well, we’re going to work very, very closely with those states, and we’ve given out — we will give out over the next couple weeks billions of dollars, but we’re going to keep billions of dollars here to really watch and monitor how states do in terms of implementing these reforms.”
“Secondly, there’s unprecedented discretionary dollars, a $5-billion Race to the Top Fund where we’re going to work exclusively with those states and those districts that are really willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better.”
“So we’ve never had greater resources, more carrots, but also some sticks to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by children around the country.”
Lois Romano: “You talked about carrots and sticks. What are your sticks going to be?”
Duncan: “Well, again, if states aren’t doing the right thing with the stimulus package, basically they’re going to disqualify themselves from even competing for the Race to the Top Fund, and so there’s a huge financial incentive.”
During a March 24 interview with Education Week Secretary Duncan was asked the following question: “Would you ever ask for money back if you found that states didn’t use it in the way you think was intended?”
Duncan: “We want to be very, very clear: If things are not going the way we like, we are going to challenge that. But ... I’m much more interested in getting it right the first time, and it is absolutely in states’ best interest ... to get it right the first time.”
Again Duncan is asked: “There are a couple of states [for example South Carolina] that made news because they want to reject stimulus money, especially education money. Are you working with people in those states to figure out how to possibly still get some of that stimulus money into those states, or is it going to be a dead end for you all?”
Duncan: “We are absolutely working with folks in those states who care passionately about the care of their children’s education, and there isn’t a state in the country [that] doesn’t have tremendous unmet educational need. ... And so we are actually looking to be creative and work with people who have a vision and a passion for this and want to do the right thing by children.”
The reporters push Duncan: “What can you do?”
Duncan: “Stay tuned.”
Educational Provisions of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus package, states five purposes: (1) To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery; (2) To assist those most impacted by the recession; (3) To provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health; (4) To invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits; (5) To stabilize State and local government budgets, in order to minimize and avoid reductions in essential services and counterproductive state and local tax increases.
Under “General Principles” for the use of ARRA funds, the law states: “The President and the heads of Federal departments and agencies shall manage and expend the funds made available in this Act so as to achieve the purposes specified in subsection (a) [described above], including commencing expenditures and activities as quickly as possible consistent with prudent management.”
Approximately $100 billion of the stimulus package’s $787 billion is devoted to education programs. The one-time nature of the stimulus funding (all of it is to be spent by September 2011 at the latest) encourages expenditures on activities that do not result in ongoing or recurring expenses beyond that date, after which school districts will be solely responsible for the costs. Neither the law nor federal policy regarding the disbursement of funds addresses how meeting a main stated objective — forestalling teacher layoffs for example — will not result in “recurring expenditure.”
However the ARRA does meet an objective not stated in the law, of increasing federal executive control over education — control that has long been mainly local or state based. It builds on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which also used federal public dollars to mandate school closings, state takeovers, more charter schools, and more.
Duncan’s “reform” agenda was noted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the national-level association for K-12 educational administrators. The ASCD recognizes that the ARRA is aimed at “stimulating” the economy and “helping states address their deficits (of which education is one of the largest state expenditures) and forestalling teacher layoffs at the local level.” But it also emphasizes another feature of the stimulus. The ASCD article, “Eligible Education Activities for Funding,” adds, “Education Secretary Arne Duncan has, however, signaled a third priority for this unprecedented federal infusion of education funding: reform.” Duncan demands the funds be used for activities that he decides “promote student achievement.”
In visits to numerous states, Duncan has suggested that states and districts that adopt governance mechanisms that eliminate unions (such as Colorado’s Innovation Schools Act providing waivers from collective bargaining agreements) and reduce or eliminate public control of school districts (such as Duncan’s call for mayoral control of urban school districts) will be more likely to receive more ARRA funds than states that are less aggressive in adopting such measures.
Duncan promotes the KIPP Charter schools as examples of the kind of “achievement he is after. The KIPP schools been exposed by parents, students and teachers alike as prison-like sweatshops, where humiliation and collective punishment are promoted. KIPP and similar charter schools also essentially ban teachers unions and require teachers “who are willing or able to work long hours for low pay. These schools run 10-hour days during the week, half day programs every other Saturday, and require teachers to be available for hours in the evening for assistance with homework. Not surprisingly, these schools have high rates of teacher turnover, and despite monopoly media reports, do not perform better on state tests (see BF 13.9 for more on KIPP).
The ASCD also states that the Department of Education dictates that funds be used to “elevate the quality of the teaching profession by using a significant amount of the stimulus funds for professional development activities.” The value of such “development activities” has long been questioned by educators, particularly as concerns the needs of urban teachers. Such activities also have little impact on “stimulating the economy” although they will serve to enrich for-profit providers of professional development services, especially those “approved” by the U.S. Department of Education.
Overall, Duncan plans to compel educators and state and local authorities to adopt the Obama administration’s agenda for education, an agenda embodied in Duncan’s appointment as Secretary.
Major Areas of Education Funding Within the Stimulus
Most of the nearly $100 billion for education activities will be delivered to states and districts through one of four distinct mechanisms: through the existing Title I for the poor and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding formulas, the state’s primary K-12 funding formula, and competitive grants under the auspices of the Secretary of Education. Both the $5 billion in competitive grants (“Race to the Top” funds) and the more than $50 billion in state fiscal stabilization funds (the largest portion of the ARRA money targeted to education) require application (from school districts and state governors, in the case of stabilization funds). Funds are released to each state and district on the condition that the Secretary of Education judges their efforts to be in compliance with President Obama’s vision for education “reform.”
Title I, Part A — $10 billion
Title I is a prominent feature of federal K-12 education funding. According to the ASCD: “The $10 billion of stimulus funds earmarked for Title I over the next two years are in addition to the regular appropriation for fiscal year 2009 of $14.5 billion.” Half of this money is being made available immediately (April, 2009), with the other half to be dispersed during the summer and fall of 2009, pending Secretary Duncan’s approval of state spending plans, record keeping and reporting. In addition, 95 percent of these funds must be allocated to districts for “school improvement” activities such as “professional development” and extension of the school day and school year.
Title I School Improvement Grants — $3 billion
The School Improvement Grant subprogram under Title I provides funds for “turnaround activities” at schools identified as “in need of improvement.” Schools are branded in this way based on the arbitrary testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Closing “low performing” schools has been described by Department of Education officials as a key part of “school improvement grants” to be issued under the ARRA.
In Chicago, for example, while Duncan was Chief Executive Officer of the schools, many neighborhood schools in African American and Latino communities were closed under NCLB mandate despite public opposition. These schools were subsequently either turned into selective enrollment schools for the wealthy or turned over to outside “turnaround” specialists leading to corporate charter status. Both contribute to eliminating the public school system.
Teachers, students and parents in Chicago and elsewhere across the country have fought against the NCLB branding of schools and the whole arbitrary testing regime it utilizes. Years of experience have shown the testing and school closings are wrecking education, especially for poor and national minority youth. Some states, like Indiana, have half their schools designated as “low performing.” Philadelphia saw a state takeover of its public school system, with schools then turned over to a private charter firm. Indeed, the damage nationwide is such that most associations and organizations dealing with education now oppose the NCLB. Nonetheless, the ARRA is stepping up this trend of more testing, less education and more closing of public schools — while not addressing the urgent problem facing the youth of having their right to education guaranteed.
IDEA, Part B — $11.3 billion
Federal funding through IDEA helps “defray the additional costs of states and districts associated with educating students with disabilities” according to the ASCD. The stimulus funding of $11.3 billion essentially doubles the $11.5 billion for IDEA state grants for fiscal year 2009. “Additionally, the stimulus provides $400 million for the IDEA preschool program and $500 million for the IDEA infants and toddlers program.” As with Title I funds, half of this money is being made available immediately. In order to receive the remaining Part B recovery funds, a state must submit, for review and approval by the Department of Education, an amendment to its fiscal year 2009 application to address the record keeping and reporting requirements under the ARRA.
Aside from the potential uses of IDEA stimulus dollars outlined below, it is important to note that under the existing IDEA rules, local districts can reduce their state and local expenditures by up to 50 percent of any federal increase received under the normal IDEA appropriation and apply it to NCLB activities, like more testing. The U.S. Department of Education is encouraging districts to take “advantage of this flexibility to focus the freed-up local funds on one-time expenditures such as the equitable distribution of effective teachers and the quality of assessments.” The move encourages state reliance on federal funding and thus increases federal executive control over state education systems.
State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for Education — $39.8 billion
The ARRA authorizes $48.3 billion for state use under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. It is allocated to states by formula: 61 percent on the basis of relative population of 5–24-year-olds and 39 percent on the basis of the relative share of the total population. The money is divided into two pots for use within states. The largest pot, $39.8 billion, must be used to restore (in equal proportions) both a state’s K-12 and higher education funding to either fiscal year 2008 or fiscal year 2009 levels, whichever is higher. States must distribute these funds to local districts based on the state’s primary education funding formula. If any funds remain after K-12 funding restoration, such a surplus will be distributed to districts on the basis of the Title I formula (but is not required to be used for Title I activities).
This method does not take into account actual state and district financial needs, serving to exacerbate inequalities between states and regions. For example, states such as Texas, Alaska and Wyoming have not had to cut K-12 funding, yet they will nonetheless receive stimulus funds aimed at restoring educational funding. Rural districts will receive relatively little ARRA funds as a result of this calculation. States such as California, Florida and New York will not receive enough funds under this formula to achieve the stated aim of “restoring funding” to previous levels.
The second pot, of $8.5 billion, is to be used for “public safety” and other government operations and may include K-12 services (or the renovation/repair of school facilities—but not new building construction). At the district level, there are specific provisions related to the use of education funds, which can be used for any activities under No Child Left Behind, IDEA, the Adult and Family Literacy Act, or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act).
To receive the initial 67 percent of the State’s allocation under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, a governor must submit to the Department of Education an application that includes assurances that the State will commit to advancing education reform in four specific areas:
(1) Achieving equity in teacher distribution;
Secretary’s Innovation Fund — $5 billion
The most direct and obvious stimulus investment in education “reform” is a $5 billion fund overseen by the Secretary of Education to promote his four “reform” priorities. The “Race to the Top Fund” is $4.35 billion worth of competitive grants to states “making the most progress” as determined by the Secretary.
The Investing in What Works and Innovation Fund is $650 million in -competitive grants to Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and nonprofits that “have made significant gains in closing achievement gaps and are models of best practices. Because the grants are awarded on a competitive basis and are also somewhat contingent on state and district use of other stimulus funds, the government will award these grants last. The 2010 awards will be made in two rounds, first in late fall 2009 and then again in summer of 2010,” according to the ACSD.
Education Technology Grants — $650 million
The stimulus plan provides $650 million for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT, or E2T2) state grant program beyond the fiscal year 2009 appropriation of $270 million. The program is said to help districts utilize technology to improve teaching and learning to increase student achievement and technological literacy. States must use 25 percent of stimulus funds distributed under this program for “professional development.”
Overall the stimulus funds serve to increase the role of executives and non-elected bodies, like the boards selected to oversee the “State Fiscal Stability Funds.” Certainly it is not a coincidence that these bodies — also formed for the trillions in funds being handed over to the Wall Street financiers — have names like “Fiscal Stability Boards.” This is the same title given to Control Boards in cities like Buffalo, so as to eliminate the power of elected bodies and put in place executive bodies with complete control to determine budgets and thus guarantee payments to the rich while the rights of the people are further attacked. ARRA serves to more fully put this undemocratic, anti-worker and anti-people governance in place.
The ar ticle below elaborates on the direction now being funded by the stimulus package. While President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan present the arrangements being put in place as “reform” to improve education, as this report indicates, it is in fact a program to eliminate the system of public schools and any remaining public control of the schools. It is a direct attack on teachers and their unions and on the right of youth to education and the right of youth and teachers together to the modern conditions necessary for teaching and learning.
* * *
The “Tough Choices or Tough Times” report of the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace, funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and signed by a bipartisan collection of prominent politicians, businesspeople, and urban school superintendents, called for a series of measures including:
(a) replacing public schools with what the report called “contract schools,” which would be charter schools writ large;
(b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards — their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the “contract schools”;
(c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and
(d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16).
These measures, taken together, would effectively cripple public control of public education. They would dangerously weaken the power of teacher unions, thus facilitating still further attacks on the public sector. They would leave education policy in the hands of a network of entrepreneurial think tanks, corporate entrepreneurs, and armies of lobbyists whose priorities are profiting from the already huge education market while cutting back on public funding for schools and students.
Indeed, their measures would mean privatization of education, effectively terminating the right to a public education, as we have known it. Many of the most powerful forces in the country want the U.S., the first country to guarantee public education, to be the first country to end it.
For the last fifty years, public education was one of only two public mandates guaranteed by the government that was accessible to every person, regardless of income. Social Security is the other. Now both systems are threatened with privatization schemes. The government today openly defines its mission as protecting the rights of corporations above everything. Thus public education is a rare public space that is under attack.
The same scenario is being implemented with most of the services that governments used to provide for free or at little cost: electricity, national parks, health care and water. In every case, the methodology is the same: underfund public services, create an uproar and declare a crisis, claim that -privatization can do the job better, deregulate or break public control, divert public money to corporations and then raise prices.
In the past year, it has become evident that the corporate surge against public schools is only part of a much broader assault against the public sector, against unions, and indeed against the public’s rights and public control of public institutions.
This has been evident for some time now in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina’s devastation is used as an excuse for permanently privatizing the infrastructure of a major American city: razing public housing and turning land over to developers; replacing the city’s public school system with a combination of charter schools and state-run schools; letting the notorious Blackwater private army loose on the civilian population; and, in the end, forcing tens of thousands of families out of the city permanently. The citizens of New Orleans have had their civil rights forcibly expropriated.
Just as the shock of the hurricane was the excuse for the shock therapy applied to New Orleans, so the economic downturn triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis is now the excuse for a national assault on the public sector and the public’s rights. […]
In public education, the corporate surge has grown both qualitatively and quantitatively. Where two years ago the corporate education change agents were mainly operating in a relatively small number of large urban areas, they have now surfaced everywhere. The corporatization of public education is the leading edge of privatization. This has the effect of silencing the public voice on every aspect of the situation.
Across the U.S., public schools are not yet privatized, though private services are increasingly benefiting from this market. However, increasing corporate control of programs — a different mix in every locale — is having a chilling influence on the very things that people (though not corporations) want from teachers: the ability to relate to and teach each child, a nurturing approach that nudges every child to move ahead, human assessments that put people before performance on standardized tests.
Perhaps the single most dramatic development of the corporate approach was the launching of the $60 million “Strong American Schools - ED in ‘08” initiative, funded by billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad. This is a naked effort to purchase the nation’s education policy, no matter who is elected President, by buying their way into every electoral forum.
“ED in ‘08” has a three-point program: merit pay (basing teachers’ compensation on students’ scores on high stakes tests); national education standards (enforcing conformity and rote learning); and longer school day and school year (still more time for rote learning, less time for kids to be kids.)
Where two years ago charter schools were still viewed as experiments affecting a relatively small number of students, in 2007 the corporate privatizers — led by Broad and Gates — grossly expanded their funding to the point where they now loom as a major presence.
In March, the Gates Foundation announced a $100 million donation to KIPP charter schools, which would enable them to expand their Houston operation to 42 schools (from eight) — effectively, KIPP will be a full-fledged alternative school system in Houston. Also in the past year, Eli Broad and Gates have given about $50 million to KIPP and Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles, with the aim of doubling the percentage of LA students enrolled in charter schools. Oakland, another Broad/Gates target, now has more than 30 charter schools out of 92. And, as we shall see below, the same trend holds across the country.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is still a major issue. It continues to have a corrosive effect on public schools. It is designed as an unfunded mandate, which means that schools must meet ever more rigid standards every year, though no more money is appropriated to support this effort. This means that schools must take even more money out of the classroom to meet federal requirements when schools with low test scores are in “PI” (Program Improvement). Once schools remain in PI for 5 years, [a designation arbitrarily determined by the federal government] they can be forced into privatization.
NCLB is a driving force that decimates the “public” in public schools. In California, more than 2000 schools are now under “Program-Improvement.” This means that they have to meet certain specific, and mostly impossible requirements, or they must divert increasingly greater amounts of money out of the classroom and into private programs.
For example, schools in 3rd year PI must take money out of programs that helped schools with a high proportion of low achieving students and make it available to private tutors. […]
Privatizing public schools inevitably leads to a massive increase in social inequality. Private corporations have never been required to recognize civil rights, because, by definition, these are public rights. If the corporate privatizers succeed in taking over our schools, there will be neither quality education nor civil rights.
The system of public education in the United States is deeply flawed. While suburban schools are among the best in the world, public education in cities has been deliberately underfunded and is in shambles. The solution is not to fight backwards to maintain the old system. Rather it is to fight forward to a new system that will truly guarantee quality education as a right for everyone.
Central to this is to challenge the idea that everything in human society should be run by corporations, that only corporations and their political hacks have the right or the power to discuss what public policy should be. The real direction is to increase the role and power of the public in every way.