Tag Archives: public school system

Why Vouchers Won’t Fix Vegas Schools


LAS VEGAS — FOR the past year, I’ve lived next door to a public elementary school. With my windows open in the morning, I can hear children’s laughter on the playground, and at 9 a.m., the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom. My afternoon commute takes me past the entrance, where I see a diverse group of parents collecting their children, from white moms in yoga pants to Muslim women in hijab guiding their kids carefully through the crosswalk.

Only a quarter-mile away, on the other side of my apartment complex, is a private school. These students wear identical uniforms, but still manage to showcase the diversity of the city.

For now, it’s heartening to see at least some amount of ethnic and economic variety within our local schools. But now that the state has approved a radical new voucher system, that’s about to change.

In the clichéd, across-the-railroad-tracks scuffle between private and public schools that you find in many places, the teams are often clearly divided: poor urban kids versus wealthy suburban ones. But in Vegas, where poverty is high but not concentrated in a single area, it’s difficult to identify exactly where the tracks lie.

National trends show that wealthier families are moving back to the cities, bringing popular amenities and higher costs of living with them, while low-income families are pushed into the once shiny, now-aging suburbs. Because there is no clearly defined inner city in Vegas, just a suburban sprawl that makes up the nation’s fifth-largest school district, there is a surprising level of racial and economic diversity, at least in the elementary grades.

But the schools are far from great. In a 2015 report from the Anne E. Casey Foundation, Nevada ranked 50th in education. Underfunded, chronically overcrowded and, like many states, desperate for teachers, it has long been infamous for its problems. Despite 100-degree temperatures throughout August and September, many Vegas public schools do not have working air-conditioning.

To meet high demand for better quality education, Las Vegas has provided families with a variety of alternatives to the traditional public school — charter, magnet, technical — but privately funded institutions have proved to be the best-performing, receiving national attention for innovative programs in academics, technology and sports.

How to get the public system in Nevada properly functioning has produced a frenzied debate for years, but legislation passed this summer significantly, and finally, increased the education budget by some $400 million. There is a catch, though. Part of that budget will go toward one of the most expensive voucher systems ever attempted in the country. Parents who choose private, online or home education over the public system will soon be eligible for vouchers worth about $5,000.

Unlike similar programs that offered this type of funding only to low-income families, this money will be available to higher-income families as well (though low-income students and those with disabilities will receive a bit more). Supporters argue that the program will give all parents the opportunity to choose the schools they believe will best serve their children. Politically, it also appeases taxpayers who do not benefit from the reforms because their children do not use the public system.

Private school tuition in Nevada can be as high as $12,000, and the biggest problem with the vouchers is that the poorest families will be unable to make up the difference. So, in the coming year, as middle-class families who may otherwise have used the public school system forgo it for the private, the vouchers will undermine whatever economic and racial diversity Las Vegas has achieved.

In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”

These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.

Nevada parents do need choices, but far more than these vouchers can provide.

Brittany Bronson is an English instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a restaurant server and a contributing opinion writer.

via New York Times


Schools chief wants freedom from state rules to rival charters


Palm Beach County’s schools chief wants permission from state lawmakers to convert the county’s public school system into a “charter school district,” a designation that could let him end-run state rules and drastically reorganize schools’ schedules, class sizes and instruction time.

Superintendent Robert Avossa’s proposal would require approval from state lawmakers and the support of the county’s school board. If granted, he said the extra freedom would allow the county’s traditional public schools to better compete with charter schools, which have more flexibility under state law and are attracting thousands of new students each year.

The new superintendent was hired from the Fulton County School District in Georgia; Georgia has a law permitting “charter districts.” Superintendent Robert Avossa now wants to try it in Palm Beach County, where parents have been fighting for years to keep the hands of the charter industry out of their county. In his application for the job of Superintendent in PBC (which he assumed in June), he spoke of his passion for public education; there was no indication that he would immediately bring in the privateers, entrepreneurs, and fly-by-night operators whose charters overpopulate the lowest-performing schools in the state. As soon as he got the job, he switched.

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The culture of denying sunshine in the Maryland public school system.


Lack of sunshine within Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is destroying Maryland Schools. 

The only way citizens can protect their own rights is to know their rights. And we have to know them as well as or better than those who seek to deny them.

From violations of the Open Meetings Act, to regulations made without the protections of the legislative process, to board meetings lacking reasonable public access, there is a culture of opaqueness that pervades our public school system on all levels in Maryland.

The Maryland Department of Education (MDE) has the authority to set regulations, which have the force of law, without the processes involved in passing legislation. Citizens are represented through our elected legislators, not through appointed board members. If the school board adopts regulations the public doesn’t agree with, we have little recourse – we can’t fire them or vote them out! The issue is explained in greater detail here.

While the authority of the MDE to function in quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial roles is authorized by law, some protections of the public’s right to government involvement are also authorized. But these protections are not self-enforcing and are routinely ignored. The more officials get away with excluding the public without being called out, the more we are training them to continue to exclude us. Case in point: the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

The Baltimore County Board of Education met in January in a series of secret, closed door meetings with our county executive to discuss the education budget. These meetings resulted in an $18 million decrease in the budget, all occurring without sunshine. See previous article on the violation here.

If you notice any public body that routinely makes unanimous or nearly unanimous votes with little to no dissension, chances are there are regular illegal closed door meetings occurring in addition to the required public meetings.

Not only do we have a lack of sunshine because of improperly closed meetings and off-the-record discussions, but we have lack of access to OPEN meetings too.

Ever tried to attend a board meeting of the state school board? Take all day off work, fight morning rush hour traffic to get down into Baltimore City, pay $12 for parking, sit through the morning session to get part of the important agenda items, and twiddle your thumbs during the adjournment to the closed Executive Session which lasts one-and-a-half to two hours. If there is no delay in the schedule you’ll get to the public comment period in mid to late afternoon only to discover the sign up to speak is done by phone and email prior to the day of the meeting rather than in-person registration, testify for three minutes, then fight rush hour traffic back home. If you are not within a reasonable driving distance of Baltimore City, you’re out of luck. The board does not livestream their meetings even though they represent citizens statewide up to three hours of driving distance away. Does that reflect the drumbeat of transparency and accountability?

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Reality Tale of Two Education Systems:

One for the Poor, and One for the Rest


New data reveals our public—not private—school system is among the best in the world. In fact, except for the debilitating effects of poverty, our public school system may be the best in the world.

The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveal that the U.S. ranked high, relative to other OECD countries, in readingmath, and science (especially in reading, and in all areas better in 4th grade than in 8th grade). Some U.S. private schools were included, but a separate evaluation was done for Florida, in public schools only, and their results were higher than the U.S. average.

Perhaps most significant in the NCES reading results is that schools with less than 25% free-lunch eligibilityscored higher than the average in ALL OTHER COUNTRIES.

The Obvious: Reduce Poverty and Improve Education.

What should be obvious to our legislators is apparently not. K-12 funding declined in 2011 for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping records. A 2014 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “States’ new budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago — often far less.”

It gets worse. Numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But the U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education. And yet Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

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