The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

gavel

The July 14th ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it is not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time, Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson just became the most enabled man in all of North Carolina.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He then spent the first six months of his term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who “won” the lawsuit was financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh had to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here.

Johnson’s statement on the ruling was certainly sprinkled with pyrite.

“For too long, the lack of clarity about DPI leadership has fostered a system of non-accountability,” Johnson said in a statement. “While this system is great for shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, non-accountability at DPI hurts North Carolina students. Last December, the General Assembly addressed this problem by clarifying the parameters set forth in the NC Constitution. Their efforts offered greater transparency to educators and parents across the state seeking to engage with DPI and greater accountability at DPI.

“Today, the Superior Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s actions and I look forward to, belatedly, working for more and better change at DPI” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article161450393.html).

It’s rather odd to hear of Johnson talking about “lack of clarity.” Considering that this might be one of the longest quotes attributed to him in his tenure and his press-unfriendly “listening tour” along with no sign of the promised item list of proposals he prophesized this past January, he certainly correct about there being some sort of lack of clarity.

As far as “shifting blame?” No one has been slinging blame as much as the very people who are enabling Johnson.

That “transparency” comment? Halting communication at DPI through the most commonly used listserv to all of the LEA’s in the state is not an act of transparency. That’s an act of muddying the waters.

And that “belatedly” remark? Funny how that word is almost the precise antonym of the word Johnson used in January as he took office – “urgency.”

The man who now controls the Department of Public Instruction which has been further downsized by the very people who financed his lawsuit and who champion the very reforms that hurt the schools he is supposed to protect did not really win.

The people who enable him really won.

Listen to what Phil Berger had to say.

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and now the very hospital in his hometown of Eden has filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

What really happened on July 14th was that Mark Johnson showed how controlled he is as the state superintendent. He showed that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

There still is hope. There is still an injunction and a sure appeal to a higher court.

I would be remiss if I did not flat out state that if the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

The NCGA’s Plan to Make School Performance Grades Fuel Voucher Expansion

 

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC.org), an organization that supports advocacy of public education in North Carolina, regularly sends out very informative factoids through social media that give texture to the landscape of the politics associated with public education.

With the current recess of the General Assembly after its disastrous budget proposal for public education, it takes a lot of eyes to sift through the muck and make sure that all deficiencies are identified and brought to light because those who made this budget did so behind closed doors without political discourse and with partisan agendas. PSFNC.org is invaluable in that respect.

One of those agendas is to help ensure that vouchers will continue to be funded and expanded at astronomical rates.

This morning Public Schools First NC tweeted this graphic:

Budget fact

Those school performance grades are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

The people who made the decision to keep both the school performance grading system formula where it is and still expand vouchers ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE VOUCHERS.

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

With the tweet sent out this morning, PSFNC.org, also had a link to a quick fact “sheet” about school performance grades in North Carolina. It is very much worth a look on any person’s part, especially public school advocates – http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/resources/fact-sheets/quick-facts-a-f-school-performance-grades-2/?platform=hootsuite.

PSFNC1

There’s a table in the report that talks about the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

PSFNC2

You can also refer to another posting from this blog from last year that talks about the correlation between the grades and state poverty levels – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019 2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

With policies that still hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty will have as much if not a bigger role in school performance grades in the near future.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion!

PSFNC.org made mention of the Opportunity Grants being expanded in a Facebook posting a day ago. It references the following from the recently passed budget by the NC General Assembly:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section:
Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018: $44,840,000
2018-2019: $54,840,000
2019-2020: $64,840,000
2020-2021: $74,840,000
2021-2022: $84,840,000
2022-2023: $94,840,000
2023-2024: $104,840,000
2024-2025: $114,840,000
2025-2026: $124,840,000
2026-2027: $134,840,000

For the 2027-2028 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the sum of one hundred forty-four million eight hundred forty Page 14 Senate Bill 257-Ratified thousand dollars ($144,840,000) to be used for the purposes set forth in this section. When developing the base budget, as defined by G.S. 143C-1-1, for each fiscal year specified in this subsection, the Director of the Budget shall include the appropriated amount specified in this subsection for that fiscal year.”

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. With a shrinking scale, more schools will “fail” and most of those schools will have higher levels of poverty in their student populations.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students.

And look when that expansion will start to take place – the school year of 2018-2019 with another 10 million dollars. However, our state budgets go in cycles of two years. That means that the next budget if the powers that be stay in power can come back and expand vouchers even more.

Starting right when those school performance grades change scales.

They know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for vouchers in this state.

Trinity Christian School and Being GRANTed the OPPORTUNITY to Embezzle

Last week’s plea-bargain agreement of the teacher/coach at Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, NC is yet another outward manifestation of a much deeper condition, a symptom of a bigger problem – fully-funded schools.

Trinity

And the slap on the hand that was received by Heath Curtis Vandevender for embezzling nearly $400,000 of tax-payer money seems to be a bit lenient given the overall circumstances.

As reported by Paul Wooverton in The Fayetteville Observer on June 28, 2017,

Trinity Christian School basketball coach and teacher Heath Curtis Vandevender pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling more than $388,000 from North Carolina’s taxpayers.

In a plea-bargain agreement, Vandevender pleaded guilty to embezzlement of state property, a felony. He is to serve three months in jail, pay a $45,000 fine plus court costs, do 100 hours of community service and be on probation for five years. If he violates his probation, a prison sentence of at least one year and four months, but no more than two years and five months, would be activated.

The embezzled money, which the school owed the North Carolina Department of Revenue, has been repaid, lawyers said.

Trinity Christian has produced a number of college basketball players, including many high-profile recruits. The most recent coached by Vandevender was Dennis Smith Jr., picked ninth in the NBA Draft last week by the Dallas Mavericks. Smith played one year at N.C. State, averaging better than 18 points and earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/20170628/coach-from-trinity-christian-school-in-fayetteville-pleads-guilty-to-embezzlement).

That’s tax-payer money that was owed to the state.

To be more specific, it was almost $400,000 of tax-payer money in the form of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that Vandevender embezzled. Furthermore, when he was arrested, Trinity Christian was the top receiving school of vouchers from the state’s ill-regulated Opportunity Grant program.

Trinity Christian School receives tax money to help lower-income families pay the tuition to enroll their children. In the 2015-16 school year, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program paid the school $519,750 on behalf of 130 students. This was the most in North Carolina.

Vandevender committed this crime over a period of 8 years starting in January of 2008. That’s not a one-time deal. That’s a premeditated cooking of the books with a recipe finely tuned in the kitchen.

Apparently, Vandevender had a good lawyer who cast a shadow of altruism on his actions and dose of pathos into the proceedings. Wooverton continues,

Vandevender, 49, didn’t keep the money for his own use, his lawyer, Trey Fitzhugh, told Superior Court Judge Kendra Hill.

Instead, he used the money to pay the private school’s expenses, Fitzhugh said, when it struggled with finances and cash flow. The school is so low-budget that Vandevender recently patched the parking lot’s potholes himself instead of hiring a contractor, Fitzhugh said. Employees frequently do similar tasks, the lawyer said.

“There were funds to pay the withholding taxes, but the issue with that is, they wouldn’t have been able to maintain the school in other areas,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re juggling as best they can with limited resources to keep these kids in school.”

  • Needing money to pay school expenses?
  • Struggling with finances and cash flow?
  • Potholes in the parking lot?
  • Trouble maintaining physical facilities?
  • Non-profit?
  • Employees doing tasks other than teaching?
  • Juggling as best they can with limited resources?

Wow, that sounds like the plight of many a traditional public school in the state of North Carolina.

It is easy to get on a soap box here on a Sunday morning and preach about the double standard that is present. But consider the converse.

What if this was a public school administrator trying to keep services in a rural school together. That school would probably have low-income students who cannot receive vouchers to help with expenses. In fact, that school could not even raise its tuition to get more cash flow.

All of the monetary help that school receives from the state is done by an impersonal formula that stipulates that per pupil expenditure for students in North Carolina should be lower when adjusted for inflation than when it was when Vandevender started embezzling.

That administrator would never work in public schools again. And many a lawmaker would be up in arms about the manipulation of the use of tax-payer money.

But Vandevender literally still gets to work at his school that will still receive voucher money next year under a program that was just expanded without a second thought of its actual effectiveness to raise student achievement for the very students whose “money” was embezzled.

What Vandevender’s lawyer argued was that his school, a non-profit organization, was not fully funded.

Welcome to the world of public education. Except most public schools do not have the convenience of receiving voucher money, having a board of directors to help raise money, control over tuition, or reduced restrictions when it comes to testing and other lawful protocols.

And yet traditional public schools still get attacked because of asking for more funds to do the very things that Vandevender claims he was “altruistically” breaking the law to help Trinity to achieve.

The very next day after Wooverton’s report, Bob Luebke shared on the Civitas Institute website in a missive entitled “Schools, Parents – and School Supplies,”

First let say, most parents are happy to contribute to the additional costs of their child’s education. Parents will find additional money for such things as field trip or class pictures. They do it because they know it enriches their child’s educational experience.

This email asks parents to bring additional school supplies to the school for others. Specifically:

 We would like to collect supplies for our HGMS students and other community students that may be unable to afford school supplies for the new school year. As you are shopping for your child’s school supplies for the new year…. Please consider purchasing a few extra supplies for donation.

First, let me say I am all for helping those in need. Doing so is our duty.

But let’s remember the school is making this request. Last I checked Wake County Public Schools have $1.4 billion budget. The new budget for 2017-18 is $1.6 billion, including $455 million from the county and a record $45 million budget increase.

According to current formulas, the district allots about $71 per child for school supplies. Last year WCPSS spent approximately $11.4 million on school supplies.

That said, a question comes to mind.

The letter asks parents to “consider purchasing a few extra supplies for HGMS students and other community students unable to afford school supplies for the coming year.”

If HGMS or WCPSS does not have on hand any of the suggested supplies that they are asking parents to buy, what school supplies does the school buy with its approximately $71 per child budget?

Asking parents to pitch in is one thing. It’s quite another to ask because taxpayer money is not being spent wisely.

Passing a tin cup for such needs in a billion-dollar school district irks many parents and propels the false narrative that WCPSS schools are financially strapped.

If I’m wrong, someone show me. If not, it should stop (https://www.nccivitas.org/civitas-review/schools-parents-school-supplies/).

It goes without saying that the Civitas Institute is all for vouchers – it promotes “school choice.”

You can draw your own conclusions from Luebke’s words, especially those folks in Wake County who are actually asking to pay higher taxes to fully fund their schools.

But I do wonder what he would have said in response to Vandevender’s lawyer.

Would he have said, “Well, we need more money in our voucher programs!”

Or would he have said, “Tough! You were using tax-payer money unwisely.”

It would also be good to hear what the state superintendent of public schools who is all for vouchers and school choice would have said on this matter.

But alas, he’s in court like Vandevender was.

The Stench of SB599 – Raleigh Knows Why We Have a Teacher Shortage. They Created It.

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”

– Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

The original bill was introduced by Sen. Chad Barefoot who has shown himself to be the most recent poster child of the privatization movement in North Carolina’s public education system.

Granados further states,

Elmore explained that the bill was intended to increase the number of teachers coming into North Carolina schools. Schools of education in the state experienced a 30 percent drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2015.

So Rep. Elmore is explaining that we have a teacher shortage as seen by the drop in teacher candidates in our teacher preparation programs in the last 5-7 years?

Whatever or whoever could have put North Carolina in a situation that would create a teacher shortage in our public schools?

The answer is easy: the GOP majority in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The shortage of teacher candidates that schools of education have experienced is a symptom of a deeper problem. A bill like SB599 is a thinly veiled attempt to further allow for-profit companies like Texas Teachers of Tomorrow to take North Carolina tax money and place pseudo-qualified candidates into our classrooms.

Another jab at de-professionalizing a profession that the GOP majority in the NCGA has already de-professionalized to a large extent.

There are so many actions to deter teacher candidates taken by the current powers-that-be in a gerrymandered legislation that it would take Sen. Jerry Tillman’s two tracks of math curriculum to begin to count them, but here’s a flavor:

  1. Teacher Pay – We are still nowhere near the national average and when adjusted for inflation, salaries really have not risen for veteran teachers who are the glue of public education.
  2. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers – Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession
  4. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness.
  5. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?
  6. “Average” Raises –If you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably surprise people. Those raises were funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay.
  7. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation just took away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession after 2020.
  8. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools.
  9. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many.
  10. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.
  11. Removal of Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.
  12. Sacrificing of Specialties in Elementary Schools – To fulfill “class size” requirements that are now being talked about, many schools are having to decide if they will be able to offer arts and physical education classes.
  13. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility.
  14. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

  1. Opportunity Grants – These are vouchers. Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring because there is no oversight. Read the report from the Children’s Law Center at Duke University and then take a look at the recent plea from an administrator at Trinity Christian in Fayetteville.
  2. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Just ask Jason Saine. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.
  3. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  4. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus and former Rep. Rob Bryan crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of needy schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  5. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

If Rep. Elmore wants to really help alleviate the teacher shortage, he might want to consider reversing course on the many policies and bills enacted in his three-term tenure before explaining how SB599 might be used to get more teacher candidates into our schools of education.

But he already knows that. Why?

Because Rep. Elmore is a public school teacher who was trained at a state supported school that at one time was the state’s “Teacher College” – Appalachian State University. He should know better.

Rep. Elmore was also a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. He should know better.

He was a past president of the Professional Educators of North Carolina. He should know better.

Just look at his website – http://www.jeffreyelmore.com/aboutjeffrey/.

But he’s also part of a political establishment. That’s Rep. Elmore standing next to Sen. Chad Barefoot.

Elmore.png

Our state does not have the Teaching Fellows Program any longer.

It costs more for students to go to state supported universities because the state has not funded them to the same extent that they used to and the same lawmakers claim that spending less money on per pupil expenditures in traditional k-12 schools will not hurt students?

And they claim that they are wondering why North Carolina has a teacher shortage? And they want someone to profit from “fixing” it at the expense of tax payers and the over 90% of students in North Carolina who still attend traditional public schools and their magnets.

They know exactly why we have a teacher shortage. They created the teacher shortage.

Another Reason the North Carolina General Assembly Should Fund Specialties in Elementary Schools

The recent budget that will surely be vetoed by Gov. Cooper did nothing to address specialties in elementary schools in next year’s budget. The fight over class size restriction and keeping the arts in elementary schools will heat up again.

Many GOP state lawmakers seem quick to point out that classes such as art, dance, physical education, and drama may not be of “academic” benefit to our students.

To those legislators, I would like to direct the following report: Lynn Felder’s June 22 front page article form the Winston-Salem Journal entitled “Art and culture spending up $20 million from 2010” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/art-and-culture-spending-up-million-from/article_42ef908a-3a52-599a-8ad9-bd04f496d2ca.html).

The figures were absolutely encouraging when you put in perspective that they account for years affected by the Great Recession.

arts

A new study by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization, shows that spending on arts and culture in Forsyth County is up $20 million since 2010 when the last similar study was done. The results of the study were announced Wednesday at a meeting of local arts leaders.

Using budgetary figures from 2015 and cultural audience surveys in 2016, the study shows that combined spending by the nonprofit art and cultural sector in Forsyth County was nearly twice that of other similar areas in the national study.

Full-time jobs in the nonprofit arts and culture sector in Forsyth County rose from 4,769 in 2010 to 5,559 in 2015. Those organizations paid $13.7 million in state and local taxes in 2010 and $14.8 million in 2015. The median state and local taxes in similar study regions was $7.8 million in 2015.

The total economic impact of these sectors doubled from 2000 to 2015, going from $76.6 million to $156.8 million. The median total impact in similar study regions was $88.27 million in 2015.

Felder also talked about the effects on local businesses like restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. because of people going out to enjoy the arts.

Randy Cohen, the vice president of strategy and research at Americans for the Arts, said that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, which spent almost $105 million during 2015, leveraged $52 million in additional spending by their audiences for restaurants, hotels, retail stores, parking garages and other local businesses.

Oddly enough, or maybe not oddly enough, that appreciation of arts and culture may stem from exposure in early grades in school. For a legislature that is hell-bent on expanding vouchers so that students can go to private schools, it would be a great exercise to see how many private schools in the state do use arts in the curriculum, including the religious-based schools which receive the overwhelming majority of voucher money in this state. Even the religious schools based on Judeo-Christian ethics can’t ignore the arts and PE. Why?

The Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

So, for people like Sen. Chad Barefoot – fund the specialties.

Apparently, it stimulates the economy.

 

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.

That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,

A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.

“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).

hardister

Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.

So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.

Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.

But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.

Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.

Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.

It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.

And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.

Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.

Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?

Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.

Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.

So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.

But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?

If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.

And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.

The North Carolina Senate’s Education Budget and The Rise of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum”

NC_General_Assembly

“Frankly, we believe a better use of tax dollars is to move those from an unaccountable bureaucracy and into the classroom where those dollars will actually benefit students.” – Sen. Chad Barefoot, May 17th, 2017 (http://www.wral.com/senate-proposes-cutting-8-state-education-staffers-including-42-year-employee/16707728/).

The above was stated by Barefoot in response to questions as to why the recent NC Senate budget proposal calls for a 25 percent cut to the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction and the elimination of eight positions in state education offices.

This is also the same budget that actually according to an NEA report is reducing the amount of money our state will spend per student.

“NEA’s report also found that North Carolina is projected to be ranked 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending. It ranked 42nd last year. North Carolina is projected to spend $8,940 per student, down from $8,955 the prior year” (http://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-35th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-ranked-41st-last-year/16693105/).

That certainly puts Barefoot’s mantra of “The money should follow the child” into perspective (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/09/23/bill-sets-up-charter-schools-to-receive-funds-for-services-they-dont-provide/).

But of course Barefoot’s explanation is nothing more than a political form of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” which is a euphemistic way of saying that lawmakers like Barefoot may have reached a point where they truly believe the very lies they continuously spout about prioritizing public education.

Ironic that much of that tax money Barefoot claims to be saving from “unaccountable bureaucracy” to make sure that money “reaches classrooms to benefit students” actually has been tagged by Barefoot and his ilk for other forms of “unaccountable bureaucracy” and will never “reach classrooms to benefit students.”

Consider the Opportunity Grants that have not been shown to increase student achievement in comparable measures for students who use them. Barefoot was a sponsor of Senate Bill 862 that called for more money for those vouchers.

And these voucher are anything but transparent and free from proper oversight. Just read Duke University’s report:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf. Furthermore, they almost all go exclusively to religious-based schools.

Consider then the new “super-voucher” bill, SB603. Dr. Diane Ravitch, probably the foremost voice in educational history and reform research, even shared reasons why such a bill would be disastrous to public schools – https://dianeravitch.net/2017/05/13/an-urgent-message-to-the-citizens-of-north-carolina/.

She mentions potential for fraud and lack of accountability. It also seems odd that it would alienate children who were not able to get the “super voucher” who remained in traditional public schools that were receiving less money because of the senate’s budget.

Now that’s making sure the money is following the child. Not. It’s just replacing “unaccountable bureaucracy” with “unaccountable reform.”

But Barefoot is no stranger to “unaccountable reform” movements. His championing of the Achievement School District has still not spurred any traction in saving targeted schools.

Maybe another fact to consider when listening to Barefoot’s recent fit of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” comes when he tries to explain that the eight positions being eliminated were in and of themselves part of the “unaccountable bureaucracy.”

Why? Because the same budget also calls for this:

unnamed2

Actually, this sounds like Barefoot is simply replace “unaccountable bureaucracy” with “bureaucracy loyal to him and his cronies.”

Some of the eight positions that were eliminated in this act of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” are from the office of the state board of education, the very same people who are fighting against some strange proposals to shift power to the office of the new state superintendent, Mark Johnson in a bill called SB4 that was constructed in a special seesion at the end of the 2016 calendar year to safeguard against a new democrat governor.

Ironic then, that Barefoot talks about ““unaccountable bureaucracy” when another part of the senate budget calls for this:

unnamed1

That’s for Johnson to fight the state board over that power in SB4 on which Barefoot was quoted as saying something about the role of bureaucrats.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said lawmakers created the bill to clarify the constitutional role of the superintendent. “I can tell you from personal experience that the superintendent needs more administrative control over his department” (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-chair-house-bill-17-raises-significant-legal-concerns-/16357128/).

Clarifying a constitutional role? Giving money to a neophyte in education to get more power over public school monies? Slashing the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by a quarter and still lowering per pupil expenditures? Giving more money to unaccountable vouchers? Championing reforms with horrible track records?

And he wants to call it “a better use of tax dollars” because it is supposedly moving money “into the classroom where those dollars will actually benefit students.”

That’s willful display of hogwash, nonsense, crap, rubbish, poppycock, bunk, piffle, drivel, baloney, codswallop, blather, gobbledygook, and prattle.

It’s “Pathologia Boven Excrementum”.

Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot Concerning His Words on HB13

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

Your recent comments concerning the stalled House Bill 13 that would help local school districts navigate a stubborn legislative obstacle is yet another example of why so many people who advocate for the constitutionally protected public school system view you as hypocritical and piously partisan.

While Guilford County has already served notice to many teacher assistants about their possible non-renewal, systems such as the one I work for (Winston-Salem / Forsyth County) are waiting to see if waivers will be given by DPI.

As reported by WRAL on April 6th,

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, co-chair of the Senate Education/Higher Education committee, says lowering class size is a priority.

“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money?'”

Lawmakers requested financial data from school districts in the state and are analyzing it to try to get that answer.

“The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request,” Barefoot said. “What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (http://www.wral.com/law-reducing-class-size-has-music-art-pe-teachers-anxious-about-future-/16628678/).

First, did you remember that teachers of classes for vital subjects such as art, music, and physical education are not dictated by a particular state allotment and ,therefore, do not count into student-teacher ratios for core subjects in the early grades?

Also, how will help these schools build more physical facilities to house the vast numbers of new classrooms that will be needed?

But more importantly, can you explain how your comments are not duplicitous when taken as a part of a bigger conversation?

You mentioned “tens of millions of dollars” over a period of “years.” Or at least, that is your assumption. The truth is that over the last several years we have seen a lower per-pupil expenditure for our students and an average teacher salary that still ranks in the last tier within the nation all while this state has experienced a boom in population.

But you talk about “tens of millions of dollars” that need to be accounted for so thoroughly that you are willing to hold LEA’s hostage.

If you want to look at how money is being spent (or not spent) with a fine-tooth comb, then maybe look at the Opportunity Grants program.

Just this past summer, you introduced a bill to further increase vouchers in NC under a system that many in the nation have found to be one of the most opaque in the country. Adam Lawson from the Lincoln Times News reported in May of 2016,

Senate Bill 862, filed by Republican state Sens. David Curtis (Lincoln, Iredell, Gaston), Chad Barefoot (Franklin, Wake) and Trudy Wade (Guilford) calls for 2,000 additional Opportunity Scholarship Grants to be available each school year beginning in 2017-18.

That comes with a $10 million annual rise in cost, from $34,840,000 in 2017-18 until 2027-28, when taxpayers would begin paying nearly $135 million for vouchers on a yearly basis. According to the Charlotte Observer, the state has spent just $12 million on the program this school year, 93 percent of which has gone to faith-based schools.

Actually, legislation that you championed will funnel nearly one BILLION dollars into North Carolina’s voucher program within the next ten years. And what results has the state seen from that venture so far?

I would invite you to look at the Duke Law School of Law’s Children’s Law Center’s recent March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: THE FIRST THREE YEARS.

Duke study

The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

But just to give you a flavor of what the Opportunity Grants have done according to one of the more respected research universities in the nation, consider the following excerpted observations:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (p.3).
  • Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. (p.3).
  • It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (p.3).
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students (p.8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (p.12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. No accreditation is required of private schools (p.13).
  • Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (p.15).
  • In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. (p.15-16).
  • THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (p.18).
  • The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (p.19).

If you are analyzing the data from districts that have spent these “tens of millions” of dollars you mentioned earlier, are you analyzing the data from this report that spends this much taxpayer money?

Are you also analyzing recent improprieties of the use of monies in schools that use vouchers like Trinity Christian in Fayetteville? (http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/). The financial reports that were sent by Trinity were also incomplete (https://www.ednc.org/2017/04/07/serious-questions-arise-states-largest-voucher-school/) . It would be interesting to see if the financial reports from the suspected systems that you have focused on in your recent investigation, but you will not identify them.

And if analysis is so important to you to ascertain how money is being spent, then would you also not question analysis that talks about how your own actions have cost our state much more than “tens of millions of dollars?”

Your zealous defense of HB2 has according to many outlets cost the state of North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars. A recent AP report even put that figure at over 3.5 BILLION (http://abc11.com/news/ap-hb2-estimated-to-cost-north-carolina-$376b/1819978/).

While lawmakers such as Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and possibly yourself may question the validity of the AP’s report, they were very transparent in their findings. And that does not even account for what may have been invested in North Carolina but never made it into public record.

Even if half of that number is correct, the loss to our state is tremendous.

Yet you remain steadfast in helping stall a bill that would greatly aid public school systems and greatly help students.

But in light of the actions you have taken and the comments that you have made that are simply rooted in biased politics, I am more prone to believe in the transparent analysis of Duke University or the Associate Press or even the unanimous passing of a bill in the highly divided North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives (HB13) than your words.

For Once I May Have Liked What Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Said – But Not For the Reasons He Would Like

Rural Center county classifications

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s recent comments concerning “bridging the digital divide” at the “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority” event were actually very heartening to hear – for more than one reason.

If you have followed the North Carolina public school funding discussion, disparities between affluent metropolitan areas and economically depressed rural areas are hard to ignore, especially when it comes to getting local funds to help subsidize teacher salary supplements and resources. It might be one of the reasons that charter schools and voucher advocates have has so much traction in the rural parts of the Tarheel state.

But Lt. Gov. Forest said something that was very encouraging. Refer to Alex Granados’s article in EdNC.org entitled “State leaders speak out on education at rural advocacy day” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/30/state-leaders-speak-education-rural-advocacy-day/).

He said that five years ago, before he was in his current position, he thought the state could lead the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms. Now, North Carolina is on the verge of achieving that goal. That will help “students in poor rural North Carolina have the same hope and opportunity for an excellent education as students in wealthier parts of our state that have had for years,” he said.  

He also decried the fact that even with all the technological advances, the education field still is not level. 

“Shame on us in this day and age that we still have schools that are not at par with one another across our state,” he said. 

There are two operative words here: “poor” and “shame.” However, the reasons for the propagation of poverty in North Carolina and our need to feel shame for that is more than a single post could ever handle. But it is something that the Lt. Gov. could do a much better job of addressing on West Jones Street. Instead of using poverty and shame as fuel for privatizing education, he should listen to what he said very closely and then read this op-ed that appeared in The New York Times this past Sunday entitled “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” by David Kirp (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/who-needs-charters-when-you-have-public-schools-like-these.html).

Kirp is a professor at UC-Berkley which is considered by many to be the finest public university in the nation. California’s public university system is also a leading world-class system. Ironically, so is North Carolina’s, despite what the current administration in the General Assembly and the past administration in the governor’s mansion have done to weaken it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has been a part of both of both of those.

In this op-ed, Kirp talks about the use of technology in poor rural areas for public schools that are helping students bridge achievement gaps that people have been touting charter schools and vouchers as being the solutions for –people like Lt. Dan Forest and another recent visitor to North Carolina, Betsy DeVos.

The same technology that Kirp talks about in his op-ed is easily facilitated in the scenario that Forest claims North Carolina has put into place, so much that we as a state are “on the verge” of “lead(ing) the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms.”

Here are some of Professor Kirp’s observations:

“Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform. She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. But Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.”

Investment? Recruitment of high-quality teachers? Retaining those teachers? Allow for ties between schools and communities? Wow! Novel ideas.

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest seem to be too busy protecting us from nonexistent transgender sexual assaults in school locker rooms, clouding up any transparency for charter school growth, and funneling untold amounts of money into a voucher system that is inappropriately named “Opportunity Grants.”

Kirp further discusses,

“The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.”

Again, wow!

Supporting the arts and a holistic approach to curriculum? Health care clinics? Job training?

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest have been too busy in the last few years suffocating public school systems to the point where they have to meet demands for class sizes that force them to sacrifice these very same programs. And health care? Just look at the hardened reluctance to expand Medicaid for these “poor” rural people.

That’s real “shame.”

Kirp concludes his op-ed,

“Under the radar, from Union City, N.J., and Montgomery County, Md., to Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., school systems with sizable numbers of students from poor families are doing great work. These ordinary districts took the time they needed to lay the groundwork for extraordinary results.

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?”

Ironically, you would only have to substitute LT. Dan Forest’s name in that op-ed for Betsy DeVos as Forest is an avid supporter of DeVos’s policies. He was one of 70 leaders and organizations to sign an open letter of support for DeVos during her contentious confirmation process (http://www.excelined.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017.01.27-OpenLetterEndorsementforBetsyDeVos-FINAL.pdf?utm_source=ExcelinEd&utm_campaign=50bf72e4fa-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_01_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0473a80b81-50bf72e4fa-).

“Betsy DeVos is an undisputed champion of families and students. For nearly 30 years she has devoted time and resources to improving education options for our nation’s children. Yet millions still languish in failing schools in an education system more than a century old. It’s time for a new vision.

Betsy DeVos provides that vision. She embraces innovation, endorses accountability and—most especially—trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests. She also believes in providing every parent with the resources and choices to pursue those decisions.

On this week, National School Choice Week, we the undersigned endorse this champion of choice and the education reforms needed to improve the future of every child in America. And we strongly advocate for her confirmation as our next U.S. Secretary of Education. “

Remember that last year, Forest admonished DPI for its report on charter schools because it was not “positive” enough. He also is one of the most ardent supporters of HB2 because of his strident cause of protecting women and children from a nonexistent threat. And in a recent visit to Texas during their push for a bathroom law, he was keen to point out that there has been no economic fallout from HB2 in North Carolina contrary to multiple reports including a recent one from the Associated Press.

He called it “another attempt to mislead and confuse the public through a bogus headline.” The he added, “Our economy is doing well. Don’t be fooled by the media.”

But that internet thing and getting the rural areas connected? He’s totally right about that.

About Betsy DeVos’s Op-Ed in USA Today

Not only does she speak incoherently in confirmation hearings.

Not only does she tweet her own platitudes.

She now writes op-eds full of glittering claims without any data with a hint of some outlier data with simply no analysis bookended with enough bullshit to leave a stench in your nose to make you blame it on the dog.

In fact, here it is straight from the March 2, 2017 edition of USA Today’s online edition. Note: It did have to be corrected because she misidentified the very grant she was praising in the op-ed (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/03/02/betsy-devos-trump-delivers-education-promises-column/98594982/) .

I have taken the liberty to add a few thoughts as they presented themselves in my mind while reading as I am an educator in public schools, a parent of public school students, a voter, and a tax-payer. I am also one of about 200 million Americans who are more qualified to be secretary of education than Betsy DeVos.

devos usa today

Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this column misidentified a Department of Education program called “School Improvement Grants.” 

President Trump’s first address to the joint session of Congress was clear: promises made, promises kept. The president promised to shake up the status quo in Washington, and he has. He also promised to release his tax returns and to present evidence of wiretapping. From keeping Carrier in the United States (you might want to see how many jobs are still going to Mexico and how much tax breaks Carrier was able to leverage from Trump and Pence since iot was Pence’s home state) to nominating the highly qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (who is getting a little flack from conservatives for his religious background) , our president continues to follow through on his word (like getting Mexico to pay for the wall).

He’s also delivering on his promises for education (by presenting a budget that slashes federal money to public education).

The president made a point during the campaign to highlight the problems low-income families face in accessing a quality education (so he is backing an insurance plan that will make poorer people pay more to be insured and cut more programs that benefit poorer families while granting rich people and corporations tax breaks). We cannot hope to get America back on track if we do nothing to improve education for the poorest among us (just like you did in Michigan? Wait, like you didn’t do in Michigan?).

The achievement gaps in education result in hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic potential every year and looking at the amount of segregation that occurs in the privatization efforts you have led in Michigan through your efforts, that is not surprising. And these gaps disproportionately harm minority students. Currently, more than 40% of African-American male students do not graduate high school. And achievement gaps are symptomatic of opportunity gaps and income gaps. You know anything about that? Of course you do!

These are more than just stats. They are the product of long-term trends.

For too long, Washington has focused on issuing edicts from its bubble, rather than empowering and amplifying solutions found at the grassroots level. Mrs. DeVos, I would not consider you someone who is starting a grassroots effort. You are ditating your will from a pedestal above others that you bought. We need to retire Washington’s top-down approach and instead empower answers from the bottom up. That’s rich coming from someone who literally paid her way into office and has given tens of millions of dollars to influence the very policies that benefit herself and her family.

But we also know the answer is not simply an increase in funding But an increase in contributions to those who can confirm you and then divert monies to charters and vouchers that benefit you and those who associate with you. As we saw under the Obama administration, one of its main initiatives was the “School Improvement Grants,” which pumped $7 billion into some of our most underserved schools. The only problem was that as the administration was walking out the door, it released a report showing that the grants had zero impact in improving test scores, graduation rates or college preparedness. Is that proficiency or growth?

We cannot rely on throwing money at this problem like administrations past (Ma’am, you throw more money than anyone). Instead, we need to enact serious, substantive reforms that go to the source of the problem. Are those the reforms you were talking about during your conformation hearings?

This work has already begun. On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order that elevates the initiative on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), giving them greater access to policymaking in the White House.

Their history was born not out of mere choice Actually, what you said about HBCU’s was that they were about choice. Maybe you need to reread your words)but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War. HBCUs remain at the forefront of opening doors that had been unjustly closed to so many you might want to look at the segregating trends of religious and charter schools. They made higher education accessible to students who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity.

We must follow their lead and apply that same thinking to our K-12 system because the same reality exists: Too many students live without access to quality schools. These children and teenagers are assigned to failing schools based solely on the ZIP code in which they live. If they don’t have the means to move to a better school district, then they’re trapped. They’re trapped also when they do not have access to food, medical care, mental health, safety, jobs, a lot of things that Trump’s budget seems to ignore.

This is not only unfair, it is also unjust. That’s the first things you have said that’s right.

The left Why is public education political? continues to say they have a monopoly on compassion for our country’s poor, yet they consistently oppose the very reforms that can do the most good to close the education gap. The numbers continue to show that increasing school options has a positive effect on students generally, and an even greater impact on poor and minority students. SHOW ME!!! If we truly want to provide better education to underserved communities, then it must start with giving parents and students school choice. Actually if want to provide a better education to people in poorer communities you create conditions where they are not poorer.

Trump has delivered on his promise to support school choice and offer students access to quality options. No child, regardless of her ZIP code or family income, should be denied access to quality education. Then support  public schools – all of them.

Together, we can help our nation’s students: those trapped in underperforming schools and those slipping through the cracks. One of those students was Denisha Merriweather, a guest of the first lady at Tuesday’s address. Denisha is living proof that school choice can break the cycle of poverty and provide transformative change. As a result of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Denisha became the first in her family to graduate high school, college and, later this May, with a master’s degree in social work. Denisha’s story is but one example of the opportunity we should afford to millions of students across our country. You have not been in many public school have you Mrs. DeVos?

Kids are 100% of our future. It is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure they each have an equal opportunity to a school where they can learn and thrive. The next generation deserves no less. Then let someone who knows something about education sit at your desk.

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. In title only.