Monthly Archives: January 2017

Student Board Member Juwan Blocker files a Grievance to @PGCPSCEO

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PGCPS Student board member Juwan Blocker (pictured)

Student board member Juwan Blocker has created a petition urging the Prince George’s County CEO  Dr. Kevin Maxwell to keep Hyattsville Middle School’s creative writing program.

The Petition states:

Dear Prince George’s County Public Schools students, parents, and community leaders,

My name is Juwan Blocker and I am the Student Member of The Prince George’s County Public School Board, representing all PGCPS Students. The Creative Writing Major at Hyattsville Middle School has been planned to be terminated after the 2017-2018 school year. Hyattsville is a Creative Performing Arts (CPA) Middle School that requires students to audition to get into one of five CPA programs Dance, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, TV/Media Production, and Creative Writing.

The Creative Writing Program has been in existence for 15 years. Since its start, the program has helped strengthen the writing and critical thinking skills of students by having them analyze various literary genres and providing opportunities to express themselves through speaking and writing. Many students have tremendously benefitted from the program.

A recent PTSA Meeting and letter from Dr. Maxwell’s administration have changed the future of the program. The letter states that the Maryland State Department of Education does not recognize the Creative Writing Program as a fine arts major. The letter then states that based on parent input and concern the program will be continued for the 2017-2018 school year, but will be offered as an elective course for subsequent school years.

There are several problems and concerns with this sudden change.

1.     Why weren’t School Board Members made aware of this change?

2.     Why were parents and students just notified about this change?

3.     Why weren’t parents and students apart of the decision-making process?

4.     Has Dr. Maxwell’s administration evaluated all possible options to keep the program the way that it is?

5.     How do you terminate a program without evidence that proves that the program isn’t effective or needed to better prepare students for college or a career?

6.     Why are we cutting a program that helps strengthen the writing and critical thinking skills of our students?

The reality is that if our county indefinitely terminates this program then the rest of the Creative Performing Arts Program will not be the same, we will be taking away the additional opportunity for students to increase their writing and critical thinking skills that prepares them to be college and or career ready. This program attracts students and families from various backgrounds and if this is cut then we will also see a decrease in diversity at the school.

Replacing the Creative Writing Program with offering it is an elective course would extremely water down the course. The way that Dr. Maxwell and his administration is handling this situation is unacceptable and we deserve better!

Juwan Blocker,

Student Member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education

>>> Read more

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CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell (pictured) has been used by corrupt cartels since 2013 to advance personal careers for several individual politicians in Prince George’s County at the expense of the families, students and staff in the Prince George’s county.  Due to evolving corruption with ties to the local judiciary, the students have been forced to fight for themselves while unrest escalates in several areas within the county.

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PGCPS Student board member Juwan Blocker (pictured)

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Maryland casinos are pumping out billions for education.

…..So why are there school budget deficits?

bs-md-casino-education-20170121In the seven years since the first of Maryland’s six casinos opened, they have pumped $1.7 billion into the state’s Education Trust Fund — the financial windfall that advocates for gambling promised would go to the state’s public schools.

But over that time, state funding for public schools has increased by less than half that amount — and some jurisdictions, including Baltimore, have suffered funding cuts.

That’s because the state officials who approved casino gambling in 2008 — Gov. Martin O’Malley and his Democratic allies in the General Assembly — didn’t require that school aid keep pace with the growth in gambling.

State budget analysts say the money from the casino-fueled Education Trust Fund is, in fact, going to schools. But that stream has allowed the governor and lawmakers to take money that once went to schools and redirect it to pay salaries, fund roadwork and support other government programs and services.

“While gambling was sold as a way to bring in more money for education, it really hasn’t been putting more money in schools,” said Benjamin Orr, director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy. “We’ve essentially invested the same amount of money in our schools that we would have with or without legalized gambling.”

That’s most pronounced in Baltimore, where the Horseshoe Casino has generated more than $200 million for the Education Trust Fund since it opened in 2014.

Baltimore public schools have received less state money — not more — than they did before the casino opened. The system is dealing with a $129 million budget gap this year, and stands to lose $42 million in aid next year under the state budget proposed last week by Gov. Larry Hogan.

When the General Assembly was considering casino gambling in 2009, Del. Curt Anderson sponsored a bill that would have forced state officials to use the trust fund money to increase funding for education. It died in committee.

Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city’s House delegation, listened to the lobbyists and lawmakers who said gambling would benefit schools. He was always skeptical.

“I voted against the casinos because I feared all the promises they made would not be kept,” he said. “The money is going into the Education Trust Fund, but it’s being siphoned off on the other end.

“Even back in 2009, we knew they were going to do the Okey-Doke on us. We knew how the game was played.

“They promise a lot, they get the bill passed, and they never deliver on the promises.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, pushed to bring casino gambling to Maryland to generate more revenue for the state. But the Democratic-controlled General Assembly didn’t pass the measure until O’Malley, Ehrlich’s Democratic successor, championed the cause and backed the idea of letting the voters decide at the ballot box.

O’Malley promised that “hundreds of millions” of dollars from taxes on slot machines and other gambling would go to the state’s public schools. When pressed by critics, his administration acknowledged that the revenue wouldn’t necessarily go to additional funding for schools.

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O’Malley promised that “hundreds of millions” of dollars from taxes on slot machines and other gambling would go to the state’s public schools. When pressed by critics, his administration acknowledged that the revenue wouldn’t necessarily go to additional funding for schools.

Neither O’Malley nor Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller responded to requests for comment.

Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, argued the casino money has given governors plenty of revenue to put in the budget for schools.

“Education funding is the top priority of the House — and has been the biggest sticking point with the governor over the past two years,” she said. “The legislature passed a revenue stream to keep pace with the annual increase in education funding.”

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Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller did not respond to requests for comment.

She said Hogan is sitting on a fund balance of more than $200 million, at least a portion of which he could allocate to schools.

School funding was a focal point of pro-gambling ads that ran in 2008, before the state’s voters approved five slots-only casinos, and again in 2012, before they approved expanding to table games and a new casino in Prince George’s County.

In one commercial, advocates said casinos would pump hundreds of millions of dollars “directly into our schools.”

Another, featuring then-Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Ravens star Jonathan Ogden, said expanding gambling would lead to “millions for our schools.”

A third threatened that schools would “lose hundreds of millions” in cash to other states if gambling was not expanded.

In fact, budget analysts say, school funding has been driven almost entirely by a state funding formula that awards aid to local districts based on their size and wealth. The law that authorized casino gambling did not require the state to spend more on education than it would have otherwise.

A spokesman for Hogan, a Republican, said the legislature created the school funding formula and the Education Trust Fund.

Spokesman Doug Mayer said Hogan will fund education to the highest level that’s possible without raising taxes or increasing the state’s debt.

He noted the governor has dedicated record funding for public schools in three consecutive budgets — including in next year’s proposal.

Still, the budget Hogan proposed this past week to close a $544 million deficit would cut state aid to Baltimore schools by $42 million.

Much of the cut was driven by the state formula, which sees rising wealth in Baltimore and declining student enrollment and concludes that city schools should get less money.

The formula has cost Baltimore money for the past three years. Hogan helped offset some of the loss last year with a $12.7 million payment. He has not proposed a similar boost this year.

Former Del. Heather Mizeur, a Democrat who opposed casino gambling when she was in the General Assembly, said it’s now “up to the legislature to try to fix the governor’s poor budget decisions.”

“Governor Hogan’s budget does exactly what I had feared most when I was working against the casino ballot initiative — it does a bait-and-switch on the public, breaking a promise that was made by the initiative’s supporters,” Mizeur said. “The new money that’s in the Maryland Education Trust Fund isn’t being used as supplemental revenue to boost education spending. Rather, it’s supplanting holes in the general budget.”

Hogan met with lawmakers from Baltimore recently, Mayer said, and offered to move more money to the city if they can find other areas in the budget to cut.

“We cannot spend money we don’t have,” Mayer said. He said lawmakers have the rest of the annual session, which ends April 10, to find ways to pay for what’s important to them.

“The governor is not going to raise taxes, and he’s not going to increase debt,” Mayer said.

Casinos contributed $50 million to the state’s Education Trust Fund in 2011, and $94 million the next year. But instead of increasing, state aid to schools decreased in 2012.

Proponents of casino gambling said the state was still struggling to recover from the recession. They say the casino money helped the state avoid what could have been even deeper cuts to schools.

State legislative analysts say casino money allowed Maryland to keep pace with education funding formulas even in tough fiscal times.

By 2015, the casinos were generating more than $350 million for the Education Trust Fund. This year, they’re on pace to contribute more than $500 million.

The casinos are projected to have contributed more than $2 billion to the trust fund by the end of the fiscal year. Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel County has itself already contributed more than $1 billion.

Still, nine school districts — in Baltimore City and in Carroll, Calvert, Garrett, Harford, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Worcester counties — are facing cuts in state aid this year.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot opposed casino gambling in Maryland.

“People ask me often around the state, ‘What happened to the casino money?'” he said. “And I don’t have a good answer for them. It just disappears into the general fund.”

He remembers proponents speaking about the benefits of “slots for tots.”

“It was a fiscal fairy tale from the start,” he said.

Casinos still are having a substantial impact on the state’s economy.

In addition to the $1.7 billion for the Education Trust Fund, casinos have generated $266 million for horse racing, $177 million for local community impact grants and $47 million for small and minority-owned businesses.

They also employ hundreds of Marylanders. Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, for instance, is one of the largest employers in the city.

“We’re very pleased with the performance of our casino partners,” said Gordon Medenica, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. “The Education Trust Fund has grown every year. We expect the funding to the Education Trust Fund will continue to increase.”

Having generated $2.2 billion in revenue for the state, casinos are now some of the largest taxpayers in Maryland. But proponents note that they don’t decide where the proceeds go.

Bebe Verdery, director of the Education Reform Project of the ACLU of Maryland, said casino revenue should be doing more for education in the state.

“Maryland school funding falls over $1 billion short of what the education formula says students need,” she said. “Casino operators are receiving higher-than-expected, record profits.

“In this time of fiscal distress for Baltimore and other schools, why can’t part of the solution be casinos sharing more of their excess profits?”

Via Baltimore sun

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Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the school system is facing a $129 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget, the largest gap in recent years. (Baltimore Sun)

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Rushern Baker III (right), Dr. Kevin Maxwell (center) and Segun Eubanks (left) also pushed for casino gambling in Prince George’s County in which a school and other facilities were dished to gambling as this Blog protested. Now the truth is coming out finally.

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Governor Hogan Declares War on Corruption

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Governor Larry Hogan

Governor Larry Hogan declared war on the Culture of Corruption in Annapolis today by introducing his Integrity in Government Initiative.

 

You can watch all of Governor Hogan’s press conference here.

Integrity in Government Initiative – January 19, 2017

To say that Governor Hogan’s proposed reforms are much needed would be a bold understatement. In light of the issues surrounding corruption that have been exposed in recent weeks, these changes are both unfortunate but also necessary in order to ensure that the people of Maryland can have faith that both the executive and legislative branches of Government are responsive to peoples needs.

The Public Integrity Act will finally put some sort of restrictions on lobbying by legislators, former legislators, and former executive branch employees, as well as appointees to executive branch commissions. This legislation was certainly influenced by the corrupt deals made by Delegate Dan Morhaim as he worked for marijuana legislation that would further enrich him in his second job. So much corruption in Annapolis revolves around the lobbying and lobbyists, and the restrictions on lobbying as well holding members of the General Assembly accountable to the State Ethics Commission creates a more even playing field that should root out the remaining corruption in the General Assembly.

The Legislative Transparency Act is something that is so basic and so easy to do that it should be a no-brainer. Most citizens do not have the time to travel to Annapolis to ensure to see what their Delegates and Senators are doing. The idea that any citizen can watch the proceedings of the General Assembly live or at a time of their convenience gives voters the opportunity to see exactly how their General Assembly members vote and how they behave on the floor of the General Assembly. This will give people the chance to see exactly what happens whether its during regular session or whether its middle of the night shenanigans that has occurred in the past.

The Liquor Board Reform Act is a master stroke that ensures that State Senators and members of local political parties can no longer put political party apparatchiks into positions of power as Liquor Board Commissioners. It’s the last remnant of the old boy network that used to govern Maryland for decades, when State Senators controlled all political patronage in their county.

The Redistricting Reform Act is something that we at Red Maryland have supported for a long time. You can read about our previous writing on redistricting here.

So what are the chances that any of the Governor’s initiatives get passed by the General Assembly? Slim and none. Democrats in Annapolis are more interested in political games and ensuring the status quo than they are passing meaningful reform to protect Maryland from political corruption. They certainly do not want to cut off the spigot of opportunities open to Maryland Democrats They won’t seek to subject themselves to the higher standard of behavior and ethics that Governor Hogan seek for government officials in Maryland. They certainly do not want to relinquish the last vestiges of patronage remaining to senior elected officials and party leaders. Nor will Democrats wish to subject themselves to Redistricting Reform that  will invariably wind up in more equal legislative and congressional districts that could mean tougher re-election campaigns and large Republican gains in the House and the Senate.

So we should all expect Maryland Democrats to oppose the Integrity in Government Initiative because it’s not in their political or financial interests to do so.

We should, however, applaud Governor Hogan for putting forth this kind of meaningful legislation. While Democrats try to play political games, the Governor is putting forward legislation that will fix the culture of corruption in Annapolis once and for all. Let us hope that those who oppose this type of common sense legislation for their own personal benefit do so at their own political peril.

Read more at http://redmaryland.com/2017/01/governor-hogan-declares-war-on-corruption/maryland-map

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Hogan warns that a ‘culture of corruption’ could be taking root in Annapolis

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan poses with a bill during a bill signing ceremony in Annapolis during the last legislative session. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared Thursday that the State House was at risk of succumbing to a “culture of corruption” and proposed a package of bills he said would help weed out unethical behavior and improve public trust.

Hogan’s Integrity in Government Initiative comes in the wake of recent scandals in Annapolis, including the guilty plea of a former state lawmaker who admitted to accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official favors and the indictment of a Baltimore Democrat, who had been nominated for a General Assembly seat, on charges of violating campaign finance laws.

The guilty plea, entered by former delegate William A. Campos (D-Prince George’s), was a result of an ongoing bribery probe centered on liquor sales in Prince George’s County. Federal prosecutors say additional elected officials in Annapolis have been implicated.

“We cannot allow the unethical behavior of the few to tarnish the goodwill of the many in our state capital,” Hogan said during a news conference in front of the State House. “Marylanders are now asking how many more public officials have to be indicted before we are finally going to take the actions necessary to clean up this mess.”

Hogan offered few specifics about the legislation he would propose. But he said he wanted to make it harder for lawmakers to influence bills affecting industries in which they have a financial interest and also wanted legislators accused of ethics violations to be investigated by the State Ethics Commission, rather than the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

 Sen. James E. “Ed” DeGrange III (D-Anne Arundel), who co-chairs that committee, pushed back against Hogan’s characterization of the state capital and defended his panel, saying the lawmakers do hold their colleagues accountable.

In recent years, the committee recommended reprimanding a delegate for pushing a law that would have helped him regain his real estate license and stripping Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) of committee assignments for failing to disclose his work consulting for a grocery chain. In 1998, the committee recommended the expulsion of a senator accused of misusing his office for private gain.

 “I’m baffled why he would think that legislators can’t do their job as they’ve done many times before,” DeGrange said.

“To say there’s a culture of corruption in Annapolis is just beyond me,” he said. “It’s no different than any other profession, if you will. You’ll have a percentage, which is a very small percentage, that don’t do things right, and those things are addressed as they come up.”

But with the federal bribery investigation still underway and speculation rampant in the capital about who else may be involved, Hogan’s proposals seemed likely to gain traction.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) released statements saying they looked forward to working with the governor on ethics reform, which Miller said would be a “major topic in the 2017 legislative session.”

Miller and Busch declined to answer questions about the governor’s proposals on Thursday, saying they had not seen the legislation.

 Hogan said he wants to overhaul how liquor board commissioners are chosen in Maryland, which he called one of the “last vestiges of the patronage system.” The federal probe includes bribery charges against then-Prince George’s liquor board commissioner Anuj Sud and commission executive director David Son.

Under current rules, local party central committees, along with local senators, recommend liquor board members to the governor, who appoints the boards. Hogan proposed removing the party committees from the process and requiring nominees to undergo criminal background checks.

Hogan also said he had allocated $1.2 million in the state budget to allow all General Assembly meetings to be live-streamed. Maryland is one of only seven states not to provide that service already, he said.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the executive director of Common Cause, applauded the move, noting that her group long has pushed to have legislative meetings publicly broadcast. “There is a possibility that we will see a dozen bills that Common Cause has worked on for five or 10 years presented with a bow on it, and that is incredibly exciting,” she said.

 But Bevan-Dangel also said she was eager to see more details of the legislation. “It is a little ironic that a press conference on transparency did not have transparency, including details on the legislation,” she said.

Hogan’s ethics reform proposals appear aimed in part at addressing a controversy surrounding the legislature’s foremost champion of medical marijuana, who continued pushing for bills related to the industry after being hired as a consultant to a medical marijuana business.

State ethics laws generally allow lawmakers to vote on bills that broadly affect the industry in which they work, and Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has maintained he did nothing wrong because none of his legislative actions was specific to the dispensary in which he was involved.

Corruption is in full swing in the Maryland Judiciary!

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The Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis.

The latest graft disclosures in the Maryland Judiciary, in which documents filed with the court disappear and judges ignored overwhelming misconduct of attorneys involved in cases, underscores just how complicated the war on corruption in Maryland and elsewhere has become. We have heard that a person can buy their case in most Maryland courts if they have the money, or the connections.

This unfortunate incident is a painful reminder of a reality that points to a general collapse in the war on corruption in the state of Maryland and in Prince George’s County in particular. Other counties such as Montgomery County are the epicenter of the misconduct alleged here with connection to other counties.

The war on graft in the Judiciary is not isolated from the national war on corruption that is currently in progress in Maryland and throughout the country. We must continue to request help and work closely with the U.S State attorneys and other leaders committed to reforms in various parts of the country.

For effective war on corruption to be waged, we need all the three arms of government working in sync: This is because, for effective delivery of service, these arms of the state must interact.

For example, if the Executive decided to fight corruption to the exclusion of either the Judiciary or Legislature, the likelihood is that the other two will sabotage such an endeavor. We have seen this first hand after several Maryland delegates in Prince George’s County joined forces to ruin our careers in conspiracy with others.

Much as the Judiciary is an independent arm of government, judicial officers do not have the individual independence to immunize themselves from corruption.

Corruption erodes the independence of our courts. Most judicial officers do not want an independent Judiciary because it reins in their desire to be corrupt.

A wholesome effort is necessary, but the challenge comes once it is clear that society worships the beneficiaries of corrupt dealings. Rather than become an expensive, nauseating enterprise, more people are being attracted to this enterprise because it provides one with the ‘sweet’ opportunity of scaling the economic ladder.

In Prince George’s County, the U.S Attorney office tried to wage this complex war during the tenure of former County Executive Jack Johnson, but from the look of things the County, the Judiciary and personnel connected to the executives are back to being its former true self.

These latest disclosures concerning Federal bribery charges filed over Prince George’s County liquor licenses suggest that corruption is still in full swing in Prince George’s County and in the state of Maryland. Further investigations will review that, the same arm of government that is supposed to fight corruption without any reservations might be heavily involved in some circles. As citizens, we must request for anyone involved to resign their seats.

The tragedy in all this is that, as bad as these events are, the local state Judiciary has not shown a single person with the fire in the belly who can lead the war on corruption and so effectively.

What is needed is a person who can cultivate respect among peers and instill fear in errant judicial and state officers throughout Maryland and set an example for others to follow.

We need new judicial leaders in Maryland who can make cartels and officers engaged in professional misconduct and fraud throughout howl with pain. On these issues, we have been actively trying to get the attention of the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, WUSA 9, NBC4 etc for some of these issues, but have been told by many that the politics behind newspapers has stopped some good local stories from being reported there first. So perhaps they will jump on the bandwagon once another one writes first?

All eyes are on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr in the next few months concerning these issues if the highest courts in Maryland fail to act. As stated in the New Year message, a clean, competent, caring, accountable, inclusive and honest local government is what we must expect. If you missed it, read our new year message here.

Dr. Martin Luther King challenged our nation many years ago to live out that sacred truth: to banish the evils of bigotry, segregation and oppression from the institutions of society and the hearts of men.  He was indeed a champion of great principles, laboring mightily and in the end sacrificing his life to advance the cause of equal rights for all. At the level of first principles—in his commitments to natural rights, democratic government, and the irrelevance of race to moral personhood and just social deserts—King’s political thought might properly claim a consensus among virtually all American citizens.

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Four arrested in shooting of Md. rapper found dead in his home

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Four people were arrested in the killing of local rapper Khalil Wiggins, who police believe was killed in his home during a robbery.

Responding to a call on December 29 at about 8:40 p.m., Prince George’s County Police officers found a man shot multiple times in his home in the 3900 block of Byers Street in Capitol Heights.

Four people have admitted their involvement in Wiggins’s killing, according to Prince George’s County police: Michael Stevenson III, 22, of Southeast Washington; Quran Middleton-Bey, 22, of Cheltenham; and Kierra Williams and Damond Foster, both 23 and both of Alexandria.

All four have been charged with first- and second-degree murder and are being held without bond, police said.

Big Lyl and his group, Section 8 Mob, appeared in the movie “Guilty By Association” starring Morgan Freeman in 2003, according to IMDb.com.

Khalil Wiggins, 44, was found shot inside his home at about 8:40 p.m. Dec. 29 in the 3900 block of Byers Street in Capitol Heights. He was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Wiggins performed under the name Big Lyl and was active in the region’s music scene, according to tribute pages on social media.

Police believe the motive was robbery. The four suspects admitted their involvement in the murder, police say. All are being held on a no-bond status.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Homicide Unit at 301-772-4925. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477), text “PGPD plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) on your cell phone or go to http://www.pgcrimesolvers.com and submit a tip online.

Read more >>>Former PGCPS Student and Local Rapper Big Lyl Shot to Death Inside His Home.

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Khalil Wiggins 44, who performed as Big Lyl, Suffered multiple gunshots wounds – He lived in Capital Heights and was an alumni of Fairmont Heights High School in PGCPS

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John Kuhn: The Great Hoax of Texas’ A-F Grades for School Districts

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Superintendent John Kuhn gives advice and inspirational words from a podium at the University of Houston

John Kuhn was the superintendent of the small Perrin-Whitt school district in Texas and was recently named superintendent of schools in Mineral Wells, Texas. He is also one of the best informed, most eloquent critics of corporate reform in the nation. He was a lead speaker at the 2011 Save Our Schools March on Washington, where he electrified the crowd. He has recently published two books: Fear and Learning in America and Test and Punish: How the Texas Education Model Gave America Accountability Without Equity. Kuhn says that the Texas A-F school grading system sets up schools that enroll poor kids to fail; A stands for “Affluent.”

Kuhn writes:

Texas Education Agency Releases A-F Grades for School Districts the Same Day It Dismisses Its Own A-F Grade on the National “Quality Counts” Report Card

On January 5, the Austin American-Statesman published the Texas Education Agency’s A-F grades for Texas school districts and campuses. The law establishing this system called for official A-F grades to come out in 2018, so these are “what if” grades, intended to provide to legislators a preview of what the “real” grading system will look like when grades come out officially. In a statement, TEA commissioner Mike Morath cautioned that no “inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015– 16 school year should be drawn from these ratings.” That didn’t keep public school critics from immediately proclaiming that the A-F grades “transparently and comprehensively represent the performance of districts and campuses statewide.” No surprise there; A-F is seen by many as a tool designed specifically to give anti-public education forces ammunition to aim at the public school system.

In releasing the “work-in-progress” A-F grades to the public (as they were obligated to do), TEA officials ensured that these unofficial scores will become the de facto rating system for Texas schools for the remainder of the year, even though an actual rating system is already in place. This is despite commissioner Morath stating clearly and repeatedly that the grade report “is very much a work-in progress,” that the bases and assumptions behind the grades may change, and that the TEA didn’t take into account local community ratings of districts (statute requires that this local stakeholder input be included as 10% of schools’ final A-F grades). We now have a confusing situation in which the TEA homepage notes in a headline article that 94% of Texas school districts “Met Standard” while public school critics giddily point to another article on the same homepage announcing the release of A-F grades that often label formerly successful schools as sudden failures. In fact, several high-performing schools around the state received D’s and F’s. The Dallas Morning News listed 11 local school districts that received F’s but that were only recently considered as having “Met Standard.” “That’s amazing
when you consider that they all met the standard two weeks ago and the scores, the data, haven’t changed,” Mesquite Superintendent David Vroonland said.

School district officials have called the new A-F system “a big mistake,” “NOT an accurate reflection of quality education,” and “an unfair game,” and have noted that a similar A-F system was rescinded in Virginia after failing spectacularly, and that, since an A-F rollout in Oklahoma, student performance has declined significantly–despite the fact that A-F systems are sold to legislators as a means to improve student performance by holding districts accountable. It is difficult not to conclude that this system is for the most part arbitrary and capricious. In one respect it is very reliable, as it actually very consistently punishes those Texas schools that serve the most economically- and socially-challenged families and students. District A-F grades appear to align exceptionally closely with the percentage of economically-disadvantaged students on school district rosters, a factor that is obviously outside the ability of schools to affect.

As a means of assessing the impact of non-school factors on districts’ A-F grades, I sorted every school district in the state by the percentage of their student bodies made up of economically disadvantaged students, and then I listed their A-F grades out to the side. I took the ten districts with the lowest percentage of economically disadvantaged students that received grades in all four categories and compared them to the ten districts with the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Here are the results:

The 10 Schools Serving the Lowest Proportions of Poor Kids in Texas

A – 20

B – 7

C – 9

D – 2

F – 2

Overall average – B

On the other hand:

The 10 Schools Serving the Greatest Proportions of Poor Kids in Texas:

A – 6

B – 8

C – 11

D – 6

F – 9

Overall average – D+

As you can see, there is a strong and verifiable correlation between districts’ A-F grades and the prevalence of poverty among their students. Meanwhile, there is no verifiable correlation between districts’ A-F grades and the quality of their teachers, which is supposed to be the purpose behind A-F grades even existing. They are supposed communicate to the public which schools are better, not which schools are poorer. We don’t need a measure that communicates which schools have the greatest concentrations of poor kids—we already have that measure (the economically disadvantaged numbers). The A-F system exists to differentiate good schools from bad, not poor schools from rich, and it can’t do it! Major fail.

That latter assertion—that A-F can tell us which schools are better and which schools are worse—was never really anything more than a blind assumption built on ideology and political posturing, rather than on science. This A-F system, despite what the anti-public education lobby will say, is not in the least transparent, not in the least fair, not in the least accurate, and does not serve the need of Texas parents and taxpayers to be informed about the quality of teachers and schools. In fact, if anything, it misinforms them. It amounts to fake news. These are fake grades, non-representative of what they purport to reflect. If your passing school in Texas is suddenly failing today, it’s probably because it educates the wrong kinds of kids: poor ones. The A-F system is carefully-crafted disinformation likely to adversely effect on public support for public education.

If I had time, I would do a similar bit of sorting of districts by residential home values, ratios of students served in special education, ratios of students with limited English, ratios of at-risk students, average teacher salary levels, and school finance revenue levels (because, in case you don’t know, Texas schools are funded at wildly different levels). I predict that each of those exercises would result in a strong correlation with these A-F grades (that, again, purportedly reflect teaching quality and supposedly do NOT merely reflect non-school factors outside the control of the educators being smeared by these grades). I challenge any statisticians worth their salt to examine this system in an independent review and let Texas education stakeholders know what these grades really show.

Commissioner Morath had to release these grades by law, so I don’t blame him for releasing it. However, he badly let down local teachers and administrators by over-promising transparency in the lead-up to A-F and under-delivering with its rollout. In a meeting of school leaders from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in December, Mr. Morath confidently assured school leaders that, out of a sense of fairness, since schools in Texas are funded so inequitably, he would ensure that anywhere the TEA published A-F ratings for schools, the Agency would also publish information related to each school’s relative funding level—so that users of the information would have the full picture, as it is unfair to expect schools with fewer resources to outperform schools that are funded more generously. Having promised that, however, Mr. Morath somehow failed to ensure that the information published by the Austin newspaper included the funding-levels context. As of this writing, I haven’t seen the promised relative funding levels information published anywhere by TEA. As many of us feared, the assurance that appropriate context would be included alongside the published results of the A-F accountability system appears to have been little more than a bait-and-switch. As with every school accountability system in the history of the state of Texas, this system purports to communicate to Texas parents that it represents a fair ranking of schools that are competing on an even playing field. In reality once again, by funding some schools at double and triple the level of others and keeping hush-hush about which schools are flush and which are kept on a shoestring budget, Texas is picking winners and losers and concealing the fact in school accountability system after school accountability system. This A-F system, like all the others, occludes more than it reveals.

In the end, A-F appears to exist primarily as a political tool, designed not to inform but to misinform parents and taxpayers across Texas. The A-F rating system has not been independently assessed for validity. No third party has done an in-depth analysis to establish whether A-F grades for schools tend to significantly correlate with factors outside of schools’ control, such as poverty levels of students, discrepant funding levels, and the like. Until it is established that the system accurately reflects educational quality more than it reflects social realities that schools operate within and cannot control, the system should be considered incapable of serving its stated purpose. No educational quality conclusions should be drawn absent this independent validation.

One last sidebar:

Ironically, on the same day that the TEA released grades for local campuses, it received its own A-F grade from Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report on the education systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Texas Education Agency received an overall grade of C- on the national report and wasn’t happy. TEA immediately dismissed the validity of the report, stating that it is “difficult to effectively evaluate the state’s performance from a national report where no state made the highest grade, no state made the lowest grade, and the majority of states were all lumped into the same grade category.”

On the chart below (from www.edweek.org/media/qualitycounts2016_release.pdf), you will see that on the “Quality Counts” ranking, Texas ranked 45th in the nation in school finance. In other words, Texas schools are low-funded compared to other states. However, on the achievement of students, Texas was ranked 24th. To this educator, that means Texas teachers are picking up the slack that lawmakers are leaving. Additionally, on a third measure called “Chance of Success”—which includes circumstances faced by students including family income, parent education, parent employment, steady employment, etc.—Texas ranked 42nd. So, despite long odds and little meaningful help from policymakers, Texas teachers are doing an outstanding job overcoming obstacles placed in front of them and helping our students to learn.

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Despite the systemic obstacles like inadequate school funding and insufficient outside-of-school supports available to Texas children, the TEA nonetheless released this grading report labeling 30% or so of Texas schools—as demanded by the bell curve they built the system on—as “D” and “F” schools. Perhaps most incredible of all is the fact that these grades are based almost exclusively on STAAR standardized test results, an exam fraught with problems, about which the Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick once said “we don’t trust this test.”

Despite misgivings about the quality and ability of the test to reflect student learning, and despite the TEA’s own tepid reaction to its A-F grade from Education Week, and despite the prior existence of a school accountability system proclaiming 94% of Texas schools to be satisfactory performers, and despite the fact that the A-F system reflects poverty better than it reflects teaching quality, ultimately, when it comes to A-F grades, the Texas Education Agency apparently believes it is better to give than to receive.

Note:  Spreadsheets with the Texas data can be found here and here.welcome_to_texas_100009357_l***