Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Financial oversight? Huh? Why?

Don't miss the final installment of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's fantastic seven-part series on the voucher school program in that city. It's stunning.

A sample:

For many years, before the voucher program existed, the private school's record at doing that was strong. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald, a graduate of Harambee, can tick off a list of classmates from 1973 who are successful today.

There is Jesse Wray, who became a Milwaukee businessman, and there is his brother, Noble, the chief of police in Madison.

On April 27, 1990, former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson used Harambee as the backdrop when he signed legislation creating the voucher system.

...In January, Cleveland Lee Sr., a former financial officer at Harambee, was criminally charged with systematically embezzling up to $750,000 from the school.

In April, a small group of teachers walked out in protest of a delay in their paychecks and other disputes over personnel issues. They eventually were paid. Harambee officials said no classroom was left unattended. But teachers at the school have complained that sometimes their paychecks bounced, and one former board member said the school could be as much as $500,000 in debt.

In five years, in quick succession, the school has had five principals and lost experienced staff members. Just last week, some of its teaching staff was laid off.

...The voucher program is a case study for what can happen in the absence of public scrutiny, [ex-Harambee school board member and parent Mikel] Holt said. Voucher schools, like Harambee, are not required to let state officials - or anyone else - see their books. (emphasis mine)


Wow. Yeah, this is a program we want to expand all over the country, right?

By the way, the series was not one-sided. The Journal Sentinel sent reporters to over 100 voucher schools and reported in detail on the state of the program. They should win an award.

11 Comments:

Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Thanks for providing some thought on the Milwaukee voucher series. It has been a great read. It reinforced for me many of the problems with private schools.

Private schools have a lack of accountability, oversight, standards, rules, and equity.

-unaccountable financially and to the public (no oversight, elected board, etc.) You will never see where the money went.

-untested by NCLB, and do not release their overall scores to the public for scrutiny. How will we ever know what kind of job they are doing?

-no connection to adopted state standards (the curricular accountability we hold all public schools to)

-no rules. They make them up as they go. If you do not conform to their set of "principles" you need to apply.

-no equity. They pick and choose who they take. They segregate themselves based on race, gender, religion, and the big one-- finances.

Shame on every liar that has said vouchers will bring private schools to the poor. It isn't true.

Vouchers will merely provide a kickback to parents who can already afford to send their kids to private schools. Nothing more.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Kallay said...

If all of these things Joe says about private schools are true, then why would anyone want to send their children to them?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Ragnarok said...

Joe Thomas,

Accountability is a good thing, whether applied to private or public schools.

That said, do you have any comments about the $100M that went missing in the Oakland school district here in the Bay Area? Or the money that was misspent in San Francisco? or Ravenswood? or Vallejo? or Emeryville? All supposedly wide open to public scrutiny.

Kickback? What kickback? You forget that it's their money to start with.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Jonathan.. good point. And the answer is that very few parents want to move their children to private schools.

The few that make noise do so because they have been promised a "pot o gold" education by the corporate and commercial interests pushing privatization.

There is no great call for private school vouchers. One would be hard pressed to find OpEds and LTE's from parents that did anything but praise their neighborhood, public schools.

The only people that want vouchers are the rich that already can afford tuition (they want the kickbacks, Rags), commercial interests that want to dig their greedy claws into part of the the $500 billion we spend on public ed each year, and the private schools themselves who are struggling to fill their classrooms.

Rags, I have no information on the incidents in your post. Can you provide some citations, please?

There are bad people in any profession, but it is far easier to rip off the public with closed books and no fear of audits (private schools) than with open meetings, open books, and yearly auditing (public schools).

Check out this link (and this one, too) to see what sort of shenanigans went on in Florida in an extemely limited time under their corrupt voucher system.

Vouchers are good for some things: rewarding the rich, filling the collection plates, and segregating our kids.

That's about it.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Ragnarok said...

Joe Thomas,

Here is something on Emeryville; here is the Oakland story, and here is something on Ravenswood.

You can Google for more, although it's not terribly easy since some of these stories are a few years old.

My point is that there are lapses in both private and public schools, not that one side or the other is pure. Private schools, however, have an incentive to be more careful with money, since they can fail and go out of business, whereas private schools simply beg for more money.

If there are very few people who want to move their children to public schools, you have nothing to fear. Let those few have vouchers, and the vast majority will stay put. Not so?

Note that Anthony Williams, the mayor of D.C., pleaded with Congress to okay vouchers for poor kids in D.C. Do you still think only the rich want vouchers?

Actually, I don't understand why you think parents who can afford private schools shouldn't get vouchers. It's their money, after all.

As for "kickbacks", see my earlier post. What kickbacks?

As a parent, my first responsibility is to my children; if that means putting them in a private school so that they can get a good education, that's my duty. And let me assure you that I checked the local public schools very carefully. They are quite appalling, in spite of getting more money per pupil than many private schools. I imagine you'll want citations? Look up the Legislative Analyst's Office for California.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Rags, if vouchers pass, two major events will occur.

First, the 5-7% of a state's kids enrolled in private schools will start getting state money for their education-- with no offsetting increase in the state's revenue stream.

In Arizona, that means the 50,000 private school students would take $6,500 each for a total drain of $325,000,000. This is before a single student switches from a public school to a private school.

Let me be clear. That is $325 mil taken from the public education budget, and the public schools must still educate the same number of students.

The second event will be the fly-by-night private schools that will begin to dot the landscape. These schools will service the students that the existing private schools turned away based on religion, ethnicity, income and ability.

These new private schools can be run by anyone. One in Milwaukee was run by a convicted rapist. Another is Florida was run by a middle-eastern terrorist.

Private schools have zero incentive to be more careful with their money. Officials at public schools that get into money issues lose their certification and can no longer work in the field.

Private school operators usually weather the storm. Those that do have to close merely reopen under a new name or "quit" and have their brother/wife/associate "take over" the school. It has happened in Milwaukee. It will happen again.

Since we are not communicating well on the "kickback" let me explain it in simple math. If out of my state taxes around $150 of it ends up in an education budget for that year and I receive $6,500 from the state to offset my costs for sending my child to a private school, then I got my $150 back, plus an additional $6,350 kickback.

It's not that complicated.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Superdestroyer said...

Joe,

If private schools are so bad, so unaccountable, and so poorly run, they why does virtually every memeber of the Democratic National Committee send their children to private schools?

Was Sidwell Friends so poorly run and so poor managed that Chelsea Clinton received a poor education.

You have to admitted that even if most of the children in places like Newark, NJ or Anacostia, DC ended up at Christain Academies they would still received a better education that the pathetic education they receive in public schools.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Ragnarok said...

Joe Thomas,

To save space, I'll summarise your concerns and reply to each in turn.

1. If vouchers became a reality, the state might have to fork over an extra $325 million.

So what? The money was meant to be spent on educating children, and the fact that the public school system has been getting a free ride on the backs of the parents who pay school taxes but send their kids to private schools doesn't mean that it should continue. I don't believe in free rides, do you? Using your figures, the public schools would take a 5-7% hit - so what? Many people in the private sector have done far worse over the last 5 years.

2. Bad private schools will spring up.

You could stipulate that any private school that accepts vouchers must accept some regulation; after all, "he who pays the piper, calls the tune". And please don't tell me that theese will all be run by rapists and terrorists, some of them might well be run by people who can't take the teachers' union crap any more.

Do you really think that public sector undertakings are more risky than private sector ones? When was the last time you heard of a public sector department going bankrupt?

Finally, kickbacks. If you were to go to Boss Tweed and say, "Look, I'll give you $150 if you'll kickback $6,500 to me", I bet Boss Tweed would fall down laughing. What sort of kickback would that be? Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of a kickback: "a return of a part of a sum received often because of confidential agreement or
coercion - e.g.,every city contract had been let with a ten percent kickback to city officials -- D. K. Shipler"

More seriously, using your logic, every parent whose child goes to a public school also gets a kickback. He pays $150 in taxes, and the state pays out $6,500. The only people who don't get a "kickback" are those
who pay the tax but have no kids to educate. That's a weird definition of a kickback, don't you think?

For the record, the state has a legitimate interest in making sure that every child gets an education; this is both moral and pragmatic. It has no obligation to support an entity - such as the public schools - which have demonstrably failed in its purpose.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Rags... specifically, how have the public schools failed? Public schools do a tremendous job when you compare the tasks they are given to the resources they are provided.

Your reaction to taking money from public education reflects the absolute indifference the tiny group of voucher-supporters have for public schools. Your kind needs to remove the blinders and learn how to look at the big picture.

The legislatures (and society) have "a legitimate interest", even a mandate, to provide free public education to their citizens. There exists no mandate to provide exclusive, separatist, segregating private schools such as the ones you tout.

Private schools can be whatever they want to be as long as they are privately funded. They have existed for decades without public tax money-- there is no viable reason to change things.

Regulations? Regulations are the one thing they fear. That will never happen.

Outside of vouchers, where else do we give handouts with zero
accountability? Answer: nowhere.

Well, maybe there is some corporate welfare out there that looks similar.

The corrupt system in Florida is about to end-- their Supreme Court will soon declare it unconstitutional. The vouchers in Milwaukee have been an out of control monster rife with corruption from the start. Parents are realizing the problems there need far more intervention than simply sending their kids to a strip mall converted into a K-3 learning center.

Rags, keep plugging for vouchers. So far it looks like a great plan.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Ragnarok said...

Well, Joe, so far I don't think you've answered any of the points that Superdestroyer raised. Nor have you answered any of the points I've raised. Specifically:

1. I pointed out that your definition of "kickbacks" was quite wrong. You've ignored it.

2. I pointed out that the state has an interest in providing every child the means to get an education, but that doesn't imply that it's got to be in a public school. Actually Jonathan Kallay, in a recent post, raised a similar issue. "Free" means "at no cost to the child", not public school. No answer to this.

3. I pointed out that the public schools have been getting a free ride on the backs of the private school parents - can you dispute this? No answer to this either.

4. Regulations are a fact in charter schools. If private schools don't like them, they can refuse to accept vouchers. Would you support vouchers if they required voucher schools to open their books?

5. I asked when was the last time you heard of a public sector department going bankrupt - no answer.

6. Superdestroyer asked, why do most members of the DNC send their kids to private schools - no answer.

7. I pointed out that at least here in California, the state spends considerably more on each kid than many private schools. I even pointed you at the LAO's website. Do you still say that public schools are underfunded?

You say, "exclusive, separatist, segregating private schools such as the ones you tout." Can you show me where I "tout" such schools? Similarly, when you say "Your kind needs to...", what exactly is "your kind"? People who care about their kids' education?

Your views and mine are clearly quite different, but we can discuss issues of interest to both sides as long as we don't personalize it. "Your kind" and "touting separatist schools" make it hard to continue the discussion.

In the end, it comes down to whether a parent or a (massive, ineffective) bureaucracy will make better choices on behalf of the child. In the vast majority of cases, I'd trust the parent - wouldn't you?

9:57 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

I will end this post with some research I urge anyone still reading this thread to peruse. I will then pull myself away from what I have learned is an impossible endeavor-- changing someone's mind who has made it up over the private v public discussion of education.

Doug, I apologize for hogging the haloscan. I should do this sort of thing in my own back yard :)

Few will look at facts after they have made up their mind. Often the big picture is ignored and the "debate" gets mired down in minute details that no one ever changes their stance on.

Now, to the discussion at hand.

So many inaccuracies. Too many, in fact. I'm not going to go through all of them 1,2,3,etc simply because that would trap me into a new post aswering 14,15,16, ad nauseum. Again, people with their mind made up...

A couple of gross inaccuracies do stand out. First, charter schools (which are public institutions) were created to operate under reduced regulations-- that was their proponent's best argument. Less regulations would equal higher scores.

We are still waiting for those results.

What we have seen, instead, is that movement being taken over by money interests chomping at the bit to make a buck under those reduced regulations. For-profits, which were never part of the charter discussion now coax parents with the siren's song.

Granted, there are some excellent charters out there. There are an equal number of dishonest ones.

Secondly, whether SD is true in his assertions or not, rich people send their kids to private schools because of the "pedigree," whether DNC or GOP. Vouchers are not a red or blue issue. It is an education issue.

The real issue in public education, the one voucher proponents like to gloss over, is funding. The public education system is drastically underfunded, especially in the central urban and rural areas. Public schools cannot fall back on the rich donors, endowments and private donations that help lower the tuition costs at private schools.

Remember, private schools don't have transportation, textbook, or non-traditional ed costs. Public schools do.

Public schools are mandated to do far more (alternative ed, vocational ed, counseling, health care, dropout prevention, attendance tracking, psychological testing and support, security and violence prevention, etc) than private schools ever take on.

Once you get beyond the rhetoric the money argument, that private schools can do "it" cheaper, is nonsense.

Public schools give tremendous bang for the buck, but we need to do more.

We show our priorities in every local, state and federal budget we pass. When we decide to adequately fund the education system we will see the results we want. Until then, we can debate dishonest reforms, such as vouchers and tuition tax credits, until we are blue in the face, and the results will be the same.

Ben Franklin called this insanity.

Parents want strong, adequately-funded public schools which can provide their children the best opportunities possible. If you live in the right zip code, you have one. If not...

Here's the research:

School Vouchers

School Vouchers: The law,
the research, and public policy implications


If the Underlying Premise of NCLB is False,
How Can That Act Solve Our Problems?


Poll of Parents on "NCLB" -- Results
for America, Civil Society Institute


The
equity impact of Arizona's education tax credit program: A review of the last three years


Education tax credits:
No net benefit to Arizona's impoverished students


School
Reform Proposals: The Research Evidence: Charter Schools Vouchers and EMO's


Vouchers:
A costly path to a divisive education


Vouchers:
No solution to educating the poor


And a couple of bonus article to ponder:

$100
Million in private school tax credits, no one knows where it went


School Reform and the Attack on Public Education

2:34 PM  

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