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No Matter Who Gets Credit for the Original Idea, School Vouchers Have Yet to Shake a Racist History

The history of school vouchers in American K12 education is rooted in racism.

This fact is indisputable.

Economist Milton Friedman, known as “the father of school choice,” is the name most commonly connected to the use of vouchers in K12 education. His 1955 paper, “The Role of Government in Education,” is the text often cited as central to Friedman’s views on school choice in the form of vouchers. An excerpt:

In terms of effects, the denationalization of education would widen the range of choice available to parents. …

Let the subsidy be made available to parents regardless where they send their children–provided only that it be to schools that satisfy specified minimum standards–and a wide variety of schools will spring up to meet the demand. Parents could express their views about schools directly, by withdrawing their children from one school and sending them to another….

Friedman was not the first economist/scholar to promote the school voucher concept; Thomas Paine did so in 1791, and John Stuart Mill did so in 1859. However, Friedman’s writings were the ones that coincided with the America’s Civil Rights movement– a time when many in southern, white America were keen on devising ways to thwart racial integration of public schools. Thus, it was Friedman’s school voucher writings that were newly publicized a time when many southern governors and other politicians were seeking creative circumvention for public school desegregation.

As I detail in my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education?, school voucher choice was put into practice to expressly to evade the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education. Below are excerpts on how this integration dodge played out in both Virginia and North Carolina:

In an effort to bypass the 1955 Supreme Court mandate that state courts require school districts to “make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with the [1954] ruling,” [Virginia’s] Gray Commission devised what became known as the Gray Plan. In short, the Gray Plan involved the repeal of compulsory education laws in order to allow for school closure as a last resort to prevent desegregation. It also allowed for state-supervised student assignment to schools and tuition grants to allow public school students to attend private schools. …

Under the advisement of the Gray Commission that he appointed, Governor Stanley called the state legislature into a special session in August 1956, as author Douglas Reed notes, “to devise a legislative response to the prospect of court-ordered desegregation.” The resulting legislation based on the Gray Plan ( …called the Stanley Plan once passed) included both school closure and vouchers to private schools as options. …

[In North Carolina,] Governor Luther Hodges… created a seven-member, all-White Pearsall Committee. In what was known as the Pearsall Plan [1956], the committee advised the North Carolina General Assembly to alter compulsory school attendance as a means of excusing students from attending desegregated public schools. The committee also recommended that the state fund tuition grants for students to choose to attend private schools so as to avoid attending integrated public schools. The Pearsall Plan was not declared unconstitutional until 1969.

Whereas supporters of school vouchers may acknowledge the Civil Rights era usage of vouchers to reinforce segregation, they also try to paint a fresh face on school vouchers as such were “revived” decades later. For example, consider the following excerpts from this Brookings Institute chapter on the “education gap”:

The nineteenth-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill suggested the first fully developed voucher proposal. …

Nearly a hundred years later, economist Milton Friedman, a future Nobel prize winner, made much the same proposal:

Governments . . . could finance [education] by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services . . . of their own choice.

Friedman’s ideas initially were put to ill use. In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, white southerners fought school desegregation with every legal means at their disposal—not only through delay, redistricting, and tokenism, but also by withdrawing white students from predominantly black public schools and placing them in white private schools. Courts, however, eventually struck down those practices, and today it is clear that publicly funded voucher schemes cannot pass constitutional muster if they permit private schools to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. …

In the early 1990s, Brookings Institution scholars John Chubb and Terry M. Moe revived public interest in school choice. …

With vouchers, parents can choose schools that best address the needs of their child. Meanwhile, schools will compete with one another and come under consistent pressure to improve their services and develop more effective techniques for meeting customer demand. Bad schools, presumably, will lose customers—unless they quickly find ways to adapt and improve. Good schools, meanwhile, will flourish, and over time new schools will appear. In short, the promise of vouchers is the introduction of autonomy, flexibility, and innovation into public education.

A major problem with “the promise of vouchers” is that school voucher use does not promise racial integration. Consider this March 2017 article from the Atlantic:

new report from the Century Foundation’s Halley Potter… [examines] the empirical effects of private-school vouchers on different forms of segregation. …

A larger focus of the report is the impact of voucher programs on racial integration. In particular, Potter examines two U.S. studies, one in Louisiana and the other in Milwaukee, which each tracked students who moved from public to private schools. The first study, published in 2016, looked at the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a statewide voucher program that targets low-income students at low-performing public schools. The study originally reported that while public-school segregation decreased significantly, private-school segregation was somewhat higher. Potter found these results misleading for two reasons: First, the loss of a few students from overrepresented groups at public schools had a small effect on overall demographics. Second, the study reported the effects of voucher transfers on public and private schools separately. After crunching the numbers herself, using metropolitan demographics as a benchmark for integration, Potter’s results were quite different: Two-thirds of the school transfers had negative or mixed effects, resulting in overall increased segregation.

The second study, conducted in 2010, examined the transfer of students using the oldest school-voucher program in the country, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. As of the 2008-2009 school year, around 80 percent of students using these vouchers were black. According to Potter’s analysis, nearly 90 percent of the program’s students transferred from a public school where they were in the majority to a private school where they were still in the majority. This meant that although schools did not become more segregated, they also did not become significantly integrated.

Together, these studies indicate that private-school vouchers do not promote racial integration.

When it comes to racial integration, school vouchers have yet to “show promise.” Moreover, even though over 60 years has passed since vouchers were first used in K12 education to stymie the federal desegregation mandate, school voucher usage has yet to redeem its reputation as a catalyst for racial resegregation.

In the face of this reality, crediting Paine, or Mill, or Friedman with “the” idea for school vouchers matters little, for it is an idea that only fares well on paper.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Rhode Island School District to Use Collection Agency to Collect School Lunch Debt

I teach in southern Louisiana, and our school’s lunch policy does not include fronting meals to students who do not qualify for free lunch. (Over the years, I have on numerous occasions either loaned or given students lunch money or directly provided them with food. However, in all cases, this was my personal decision.)

So, the idea of a policy that allows for students (parents?) to accrue lunch debt is not part of my K12 experience either as a southern Louisiana teacher or former student.

If districts have a policy of fronting meals, those districts should also have in place a means of paying for those meals if students and parents/guardians do not pay. Otherwise, the resulting debt could put a district in fiscal crisis– one that might result in, well, employing a collection agency.

Such is the situation for the Cranston School District (Rhode Island).

The Cranston School District advertises this “unpaid meal policy”, which includes the following information for parents/guardians:

Student wanting a lunch and not having money to purchase a lunch will be allowed to charge a lunch with repayment within two (2) school days.

Once a student has charged five (5) meals (middle\high school $16.25 & elementary $12.50) and no payment has been received, that student will receive a lunch consisting of a sunny butter sandwich, fruit, and milk in place of a hot lunch. This meal maintains the USDA standards surrounding reimbursable meals and will be charged at full price to the student’s account.

Okay. Let’s see: No money; meal provided anyway with payment expected in two days– but that two-day payment isn’t really required because we’ll repeat fronting the meals four more times, and if still no payment, we’ll front a less desirable meal (but a meal nonetheless) ad infinitum as we continue to charge the full price, but not really because we’ve been giving away all of these meals without requiring any payment from student/parent/guardian prior to meal consumption.

To further dull any incentive for students/parents/guardians to pay, tell the public that the district is prepared to absorb the cost:

At the end of the school year, the uncollected meal charges must be paid to the Food Service fund from some other funding source. Funds will be designated during the budget processes for these anticipated costs.

So, it seems that the district anticipates that it will be saddled with uncollected meal debt at the end of the school year and that the district advertises (intentionally or not) that the district is prepared to foot the bill.

However, in its next statement, the Cranston School District admonishes parents/guardians that they must settle any unpaid balance by the year’s end, or…. nothing. No consequence:

Parents are expected to pay the final bill at the end of the school year. No amounts will be carried over.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that at school year’s end, the Cranston School District faces thousands of dollars in unpaid school lunch debt.

But so much for budgeting for anticipated costs:

On December 06, 2018, NBC4.com reported that the Cranston School District has decided to retain the services of a collection agency to collect lunch debt:

The Cranston School District hired a collection agency to recover unpaid lunch balances.

In a letter to parents obtained by NBC 10 News, Raymond Votto Jr., chief operating officer of Cranston Public Schools, said the district has previously tried to collect outstanding lunch bills “without much success.” …

Votto said between Sept. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018, the school district wrote off $95,508. He said the unpaid balance for the current academic year is $45,859. …

Votto said parents who owe $20 or more and who haven’t paid off the balance within 60 days will receive a letter from the collection agency starting next year.

Students who owe money for multiple meals won’t go hungry, the district said. Students will continue to get the same entrée that paying students receive. In the past, the district offered students who owed money an alternative meal – a sunny butter sandwich, fruit and milk — but stopped doing that when it realized parents still weren’t paying the lunch bills. …

The school district told NBC 10 it wanted to take a soft approach and said the collection agency will not be calling parents, but rather mailing them.

Here’s an idea: Revamp the policy of fronting meals to align it with district revenue to pay for those meals. If the district revenue is not there, do not advance the meal. If the district wants to advance the meals, have the revenue in place to cover those meals if parents/guardians do not pay.

In other words, align policy with fiscal capability.

And clean up the mixed messaging on that “unpaid meal policy” page.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

First-Ever Report Details Loss of Revenue to Public Ed Due to Corporate Tax Breaks

Corporate tax breaks divert public support for a state’s infrastructure into the corporate coffers.  It is a way to give away tax money without ever collecting it.

One of the lines of defense for the corporate tax break is that the tax break does not constitute giving away tax money since the money was never collected.

Nice try. However, the diverting of tax money into corporate tax breaks results in fewer dollars directly available for otherwise tax-funded entities, including public schools.

A second justification for corporate tax breaks is that the tax break will result in the indirect benefit of the corporation’s greater economic contribution, which more than offsets the tax break.

Maybe, maybe not. But how is one to know?

Answer: Track and publicize the dollar amounts of state and local corporate tax breaks in order to see exactly how much revenue is being forfeited so that one might evaluate whether the corporate tax break can be economically justified.

In 2013, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) formally took up the issue of tax abatement disclosure; its Statement 77, “Tax Abatement Disclosures,” formally took effect in December 2015. According to GASB,

GASB Statement No. 77, Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires state and local governments to disclose key information about their tax abatement agreements that has not been consistently or comprehensively available before. …

Many state and local governments have tax abatement programs in place. These programs can have a substantial effect on the governments’ ability to generate revenue and their overall financial health. Without providing the kind of disclosures the GASB guidance will require, it can be difficult to determine the extent and nature of the abatements.

In December 2018, the Washington, DC-based, national policy resource center, Good Jobs First, produced “the first-ever disclosure of corporate tax abatements’ cost to public education” in its 29-page report The New Math on School Finance. Below is the December 04, 2018, press release, which includes some highlights from the report:

Subsidies Cost Schools at Least $1.8 Billion Last Year

Washington, DC—A new report from Good Jobs First finds that public schools across the country lost at least $1.8 billion last year as a result of economic development tax incentives granted to corporations. The study analyzes the financial reports of 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts. The report can be found at https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/newmath

School districts in ten states, led by South Carolina, New York and Louisiana, collectively lost $1.6 billion. If this money were instead reinvested in hiring new teachers and reducing class size, these ten states alone could add more than 28,000 teachers.

Nearly 250 school districts lost at least $1 million each, and in four districts, tax abatements reduced classroom resources by more than $50 million. Hillsboro, Oregon schools lost $96.7 million as a result of extremely generous tax breaks to Intel.

The report, entitled The New Math on School Finance, was enabled by a new accounting standard adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the body that sets accounting rules followed by all states and most localities.

The new rule, GASB Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires most state and local governments to report annually on the amount of revenue they’ve lost to corporate tax abatements. The report also raises the issue of apparent non compliance with the new accounting rule by school districts in many states.

The new rule is especially important for understanding school finance, because it requires the reporting of revenue losses even if they are suffered passively by one government body as the result of decisions made by another body of government.

School boards rarely have input into abatement decisions made by city councils or county boards. Yet schools are often the most adversely affected when property tax abatements or other local tax breaks are granted.

“The numbers for Louisiana are astounding — even more so, in that local bodies are still under-reporting about $500 million in subsidies. As more school districts begin to comply with this new mandate, this report from Good Jobs First will become a treasure trove of hidden insight into how our government truly functions,” said Dianne Hanley, spokeswoman for Together Louisiana, a statewide coalition of faith communities and civic organizations.

“Even before today’s tight labor market, the supply of skilled labor was the top site location criterion used by most companies. Today, it is especially true. Yet when costly corporate subsidies undermine local schools, elected officials are actually undermining their economic development efforts,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First.

Important observation above:

“School boards rarely have input into abatement decisions made by city councils or county boards. Yet schools are often the most adversely affected when property tax abatements or other local tax breaks are granted.”

Some notable info from the report:

From Appendix G (page 25), “US School Districts That Lost More Than $1 Million to Tax Abatements in Most Recent Fiscal Year,” the top 15 districts and amounts of loss. Note that both Louisiana and South Carolina each hold four of the 15 top spots, with Louisiana outdoing South Carolina in higher dollar amounts of revenue forfeited:

  • Hillsboro School District (OR): $96.7M
  • Philadelphia Public Schools (PA): $61.9M
  • Ascension Parish Schools (LA): $58.3M
  • St. Charles Parish Schools (LA): $54.8M
  • Calcasieu Parish Schools (LA): $45.4M
  • Port Arthur Independent School District (TX): $44.5M
  • Berkeley County Schools (SC): $43.6M
  • Storey County School District (NV): $38.6M
  • Chicago Public Schools (IL): $37.5M
  • Cleveland Municipal Schools (OH): $34.2M
  • Iberville Parish Schools (LA): $31.7M
  • Greenville County Schools (SC): $30.4M
  • Aiken County Schools (SC): $25.6M
  • Charleston County Schools (SC): $25.3M
  • Ossining Union Free Schools (NY): $25.1M

Also from Appendix G, the bottom 15 districts losing more than $1M in tax abatements:

  • Oklahoma County Schools I-89 (OK): $1,100,376
  • Bossier Parish Schools (LA): $1,096,322
  • Houston County Schools (GA): $1,085,047
  • Spokane School District No. 81 (WA): $1,067,885
  • Lefourche Parish Schools (LA): $1,059,000
  • Richmond County Schools (GA): $1,057,977
  • Park Hill School District (MO): $1,057,096
  • St. Tammany Parish Schools (LA): $1,039,100
  • Coxackie-Athens Central School District (NY): $1,036,756
  • Grand Ledge Public Schools (MI): $1,031,078
  • Mahomet-Seymour Comm Unit School District 3 (IL): $1,029,908
  • Red River Parish Schools (LA): $1,015,000
  • Niagara Falls City Schools (NY): $1,014,490
  • Gloucester Township Schools (NJ): $1,013,166
  • Shippensburg Area School District (PA): $1,010,685

With 4 districts listed, Louisiana makes the most appearances in the bottom 15.

Out of curiosity, I examined Appendix G’s full list to see how many Louisiana districts were included. I counted 21.

Given that Louisiana has 80 school districts, this means that one in four is forfeiting over $1M (many well over $1M) in the name of corporate tax breaks, for a total of $268M in forfeited public school revenue for a single fiscal year. (Appendix F on page 23 provides this total and notes that only 42 districts– just over half– reported info). One of the non-reporters was Jefferson Parish Schools. From page 11 of the report:

Jefferson Parish Schools, Louisiana – In 2014, Jefferson Parish awarded a 100 percent property tax abatement to Entergy Louisiana to support the company’s expansion of its Nine mile 6 natural gas-powered electric plant. The abatement was estimated to be worth over $111 million over 10 years. Property taxes account for about 15 percent of the District’s revenue. Still, the school district has not disclosed any abatement losses in school revenue.

Also regarding Louisiana, on page 16:

Louisiana schools have suffered some of the greatest revenue losses as a result of corporate tax subsidies. In 2016, an effective campaign by the faith-based community group Together Louisiana led Gov. Jon Bel Edwards to sign an executive order giving local school boards the right to opt out of abatement deals granted by the state board that oversees subsidies.

Finally, from page 16, some info on Alabama’s tax laws and why when it comes to the negative effects of tax abatements, Alabama is no Louisiana:

In Alabama, state law requires the school increment of property taxes be shielded from economic development deals offering tax abatements.

I cannot do this report justice in a blog post. There is much info to pore over, including info about which states try to offset the revenue loss to districts due to tax breaks. For example, this from a footnote (page 24) regarding Arizona:

Arizona’s primary abatement program, the Government Property Lease Excise Tax, requires an abating government to implement an excise tax on other taxpayers to offset the losses to school revenue caused by abatements.

In Arizona, other taxpayers are taxed more to offset the tax abatement.

There is also this offset info from page 10, related to California:

In our aforementioned study on corporate tax breaks and school board powers, we documented how in many states local tax breaks are partially offset by state funds, typically via per-pupil equalization formulas. Rarely do such offsets make school districts whole, however. This tension persists and figured prominently in one of the largest changes to incentive law in recent U.S. history. In 2011, California terminated its tax increment financing (TIF) program as part of a budget-balancing legislative package. That gave the Golden State enormous budget relief because it was reimbursing school districts more than $2 billion annually for their TIF-generated losses.

The report also includes suggestions for citizens endeavoring to increase the degree to which states and districts comply with tax abatement disclosure. Thus, not only does the report offer information; it also offers practical advice for improving tax abatement disclosure accountability.

In providing this first-ever report on the impact of corporate tax abatement on public education, Good Jobs First has provided valuable information to citizens concerned about adequately funding their public schools.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

Nation’s First Charter School Teachers Strike Heads for Day Three

Charter school teachers are not supposed to strike.

They are supposed to be at-will employees, able to be fired at the will of their employer, without due process.

Such is the dream of market-based ed reform: Power concentrated at the top, with the average worker discouraged (prevented?) from any collective negotiations.

However, those on the losing end of market ed reform’s doormatism become tired, and, well, if they are teachers– charter school teachers– they might just decide that bowing to the demands of the top dogs presents a final straw and unionize— which is what the teachers at UNO charter schools in Chicago) (now Acero by name, with the name change following such remarkable events as UNO’s defrauding bondholders in 2014).

And as of December 04, 2018, the teachers of Chicago’s Acero charter school chain (15 schools) have been on strike, for the following:

CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) said the network’s 500 teachers are demanding smaller classes, more special education staff, salary increases and guaranteed protections for students and families living in the country without legal permission. …

Acero’s teachers are paid up to $13,000 a year less than their counterparts at Chicago’s traditional public schools, while working 20 percent more hours, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. The union also argues that with only one adult for up to 32 children per class for kindergarten through second grade, Acero’s classes are too large.

The striking teachers are also demanding that Acero agrees to not share information with federal immigration enforcement officials or allow them into the schools without a warrant.

Acero is posting updates about the strike on Twitter:

On Day Two of the strike, negotiations are ongoing.

It looks like Acero management is sitting on millions that it is preventing from traveling to the classroom, according to the December 05, 2018, Chicago Sun Times:

…Jesse Sharkey, CTU’s president, appeared in front of the Chicago Board of Education, to express his dissatisfaction with how Acero has managed its money and why it forced the strike of 550 workers.

“The latest audit of Acero shows that they have $10 million of additional revenue year over year, yet classroom spending in that network has decreased by nearly $1 million, or 6 percent of their budget,” Sharkey said. “In other words, [CPS] is handing over piles of cash and less of it is going into the classroom.”

Sharkey said a recent audit showed Richard Rodriguez, Acero’s CEO, made more than $260,000, a slightly higher salary than CPS CEO Janice Jackson. Rodriguez watches over 15 schools whereas Jackson oversees more than 500.

Rodriguez has not attended any of the 30 bargaining sessions that have been held in the past seven months, according to Baumgarten [an Acero teacher who has been sitting at the bargaining table for seven months.]

Those meddling, collective-bargaining teachers make it more difficult for a charter chain CEO to be paid an oversized salary. (According to Acero’s 2016-17 tax form, CEO Rodriguez was paid $260K plus another $20K in “other compensation” for a total of $280K. That makes for some pretty sweet top-downism.)

The strike continues. Stay tuned.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Help Me Prevent a Holiday Eviction

UPDATE 12-05-18: Fundraising goal has been reached! As of this writing, the campaign has $1405 in donations ($1355 after GoFundMe fees). Many thanks to all who have contributed!

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I was surprised to find one of our school’s regular substitutes crying in the teachers’ lounge. I asked what had happened, and she explained that she was to be evicted from her home in 48 hours unless she could come up with her rent plus fees. Tearfully she lamented that she thought she had secured a loan but that her plans had just fallen though and that she was being brought to court on December 6th to be formally evicted.

Homeless for the holidays.

As I listened, I realized that the brief window to assist her did not allow for a GoFundMe campaign, so I decided reverse the order of things– to front the money and conduct the campaign afterward.

I did not tell this dear lady my full plan. She only knows that I loaned her $1347 to secure another month in her residence, which gives her time to seek more affordable housing.

What I also realized from speaking with her is that she would be hard-pressed to reimburse this money– that she is on the edge of being overwhelmed with debt. I want to help keep her from slipping off of that edge. In order to give her this gift of a month’s rent plus accrued late fees, I need your help. So, I have started a fundraising campaign on her behalf: $1397 ($1347 plus $50 for GoFundMe fees). Any money raised in excess of the campaign goal I will give to her to further relieve her financial stress.

Click here to view campaign.

Thank you for your help.

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New York Times Exposes Louisiana School’s 100-Percent-College-Acceptance Lie, and More

If you read about a school with a 100-percent college acceptance rate for its grads, keep in mind that one of the surest ways to achieve such astounding results is to lie– to whip up fictitious student success stories that include a horrid home life and a string of glowing achievements that shows that these students Beat the Odds.

Such is apparently the tack of the husband and wife leadership at a Louisiana private school, T.M. Landry, an unaccredited (i.e., the state does not recognize the diplomas) private school held in a warehouse-styled building with an interior that is little more than an unfinished, open area with some white boards and a scattering of tables and chairs.

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T.M. Landry College Prep, exterior

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T.M. Landry, interior

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T.M. Landry, interior

T.M. Landry is unaccredited, but what does that matter if its graduates are accepted into top-tier postsecondary institutions, right?

Well.

One of the problems with publicizing false success is that such Beat the Odds stories draw the attention of the media– media like the New York Times. 

Either the story holds up– the school produces miraculous results (quite a story)– or the story falls apart and is shown to be fraud on fraud (also quite a story).

Unfortunately, the T.M. Landry fraud also includes evidence of physical and emotional abuse.

From the November 30, 2018, New York Times:

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Bryson Sassau’s application would inspire any college admissions officer.

A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a “bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded” student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript “speaks for itself,” the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the “Mathematics Olympiad.”

The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true. …

In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers saidStudents were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated. …

Adam Broussard, a Landry parent, noticed last fall that his 8-year-old, who had attended the school since he was 3, was writing “chicken scratch.” Mr. Broussard had been happy with the school — his older son had been admitted to Brown after two years at Landry — but he confronted Mr. Landry about his younger son’s progress. Mr. Landry responded that he did not teach sentence structure and just wanted students to love to write.

An independent assessment at Sylvan Learning Center revealed that Mr. Broussard’s younger son was performing two grade levels behind. …

News of the Broussard boy’s low test scores spread last fall, and at least eight parents interviewed by The Times had their own students assessed. Of their 11 students, only two were performing at grade level, while the rest had fallen behind or made no progress. One junior was performing at a fourth-grade level in reading and math. …

High school students took ACT practice tests day after day and sporadically attended classes. Bryson Sassau, who took the ACT three times, said that once he got to college, he realized an education that revolved around test preparation had ill-served him. “If it wasn’t on the ACT, I didn’t know it,” he said. …

At least a half-dozen staff members resigned. Among those remaining was Keidrick Owens, who had been accused at his previous school of instructing older students to whip younger students with a belt. Last fall, Mr. Owens pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation. …

Some students still cry when they discuss their experiences at T.M. Landry. …

Parents have been consumed with guilt.

How We Reported This Story

The New York Times interviewed 46 sources including parents, current and former students, former teachers and law enforcement agents.

The Times also examined incorrect transcripts, a college application, court documents showing that Michael Landry and another teacher at the school had pleaded guilty to crimes related to violence against students, and police records that included multiple witness statements saying that Mr. Landry hit children.

There is much more to the New York Times article on T.M. Landry College Prep.

The entire story is worth a read, for it reminds us of the dangers of assuming that a school– an unaccredited school, at that– must be both legitimate and safe if it repeatedly advertises that its graduates– 100 percent– get accepted into prestigious colleges and universities.

Lies upon lies.

________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

Paul Pastorek Is Positioned to Charterize Puerto Rico. Who Is This Guy, Anyway?

The Puerto Rican Department of Education has decided to contract with former Louisiana state ed superintendent, Paul Pastorek, at $250 an hour ($155,000 max) for assistance that includes soliciting the US Department of Education for hurricane recovery aid.

The dog whistle in that news is a charterized Puerto Rico.

In this post, I offer a slice of Pastorek history and involvements. Even though I cut it short, this is a long post.

Get some coffee and sit in your comfy chair.

Here goes:

Like many ed reformers, Pastorek has no teaching background. A lawyer by trade, Pastorek was appointed to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in 1996 by then-governor, Mike Foster, who was impressed by (wait for it) Pastorek’s *passion* about education. From an old Pastorek bio:

Mr. Pastorek served on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)
from 1996-2004, including the last three years as president. …

At first, he was a passionate volunteer in a New Orleans public junior high school.
Appalled at some of the things he saw in that inner-city school, he began to read
literature and work with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to improve the
education of children in New Orleans. His work came to the attention of Governor
Mike Foster, who appointed him to serve on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Pastorek’s time as a governor’s appointee to BESE ended with Foster’s 2004 departure from office. However, Pastorek was still around, serving under then-state superintendent Cecil Picard (a major force behind all-charter New Orleans) as “chair of the recovery school district committee.” Three years later, just after Picard died (February 2007), Pastorek became state superintendent. From this March 01, 2007, WAFB.com report:

“It’s time to take education to the level.” Those words came from the state’s new superintendent, Paul Pastorek. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education named Pastorek to finish out the late Cecil Picard’s term.

Walter Lee with BESE says, “It’s most unusual for the first time ever, for a state superintendent to be a non-educator.”

Up against two superintendents, Paul Pastorek, a lawyer, will take office as state superintendent no later than March 30th. He has served eight years on the board of education, three as president and under Cecil Picard as chairman of the recovery school district committee.

Having little to no teaching experience and being placed in key positions of ed leadership is a hallmark of market-based ed reform. So is the attendant, oversized compensation.

For such talent as Pastorek, one must expect to pay. And pay, Louisiana taxpayers did.

According to the November 27, 2009, Times-Picayune, the late Cecil Picard’s salary and benefits totaled $265,000, including housing and car allowance. (In 2002, Picard’s salary and housing totaled $127,000.)

However, in 2008, Louisiana taxpayers paid Pastorek an astounding $430,210.

For his three remaining years, Pastorek received $340,000. (See here and here and here.)

For a sense on just how oversized Pastorek’s salary was, consider the following: In 2018, the highest paid state superintendent, Carey Wright of Mississippi, received $300,000. The second highest in 2018 is Pam Stewart of Florida at $276,000, and in third place is Louisiana’s ed reformer, John White, at $275,000. (See this EdWeek article for the comprehensive list.) The 2018 average pay for state superintendents is $174,000.

Pastorek’s salary was obscene.

But the financial bonanza did not stop with Pastorek. in true market-based-reformer style, Pastorek boosted salaries for top administration to the tune of $8M, all in the name of *Attracting Talent*. From the November 27, 2009, Times-Picayune:

Salary costs have jumped in Louisiana’s education department, even as the number of full-time employees dropped, and the number of people drawing six-figure paychecks has more than doubled in the two years since Paul Pastorek took charge of the agency.

Payroll at the Department of Education grew by $8 million — 21 percent — after Pastorek became state superintendent of education in 2007, an Associated Press review of salary data shows.

Pastorek says the pay is needed to attract and keep the best talent. But with huge state budget shortfalls predicted for several years, the salary boosts have irked some lawmakers, already bristling about Pastorek’s own hefty pay increases.

“I just don’t, along with many of my colleagues, feel like we can put a lot of money into administration so this guy can go out and pay big salaries and not (put the money) into the classroom for the kids,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. …

Eighteen top Pastorek deputies draw six-figure salaries, compared with seven under Picard. Two of the high-paying positions under Pastorek have gone to former lawmakers.

A handful of Pastorek’s highest-paid workers have the same job titles they held under Picard but receive paychecks $24,000 to $30,000 larger.

The department’s median salary is $60,902, a growth of $11,170 from Picard’s final month in office.

The $210,000 salary for Pastorek’s deputy superintendent, Ollie Tyler, nearly matches the base pay Picard received as superintendent, though Picard also had a car and housing allowance. …

Keith Guice, president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said BESE doesn’t have authority over personnel decisions besides hiring the superintendent, evaluating him and setting his salary.

But he said, “I am concerned that BESE and the state Department of Education keep in mind that local school systems are being asked to educate children with less money and that we should be mindful of how we spend ours.”

Pastorek lasted two more years, until May 2011. Then-governor, Bobby Jindal, wanted to replace Pastorek with New York deputy superintendent and Teach for America alum, John White, and Pastorek was there to help.

In fact, Pastorek released a press release about White’s hire as Recovery School District (RSD) superintendent before BESE voted on White’s hire. From the April 22, 2011, Louisiana Voice: 

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek recently got a lesson in humility, in timing, and, most important, in how not to B.S. a legislator when testifying in committee hearings.

It all occurred on Thursday, April 7, in an otherwise routine testimony before the House Appropriations Committee and Pastorek came away with proverbial egg all over his lawyerly face.

Near the end of his testimony, committee Chairman Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), in an otherwise cordial exchange about Recovery School District (RSD) business, asked, “Are you waiting for a new RSD superintendent to help?”

Pastorek answered in the affirmative.

“When do you expect to have a new superintendent?” Fannin asked.

“I expect to have one this week if I can possibly have one.”

“So, you indicated earlier that you didn’t have one but you expect to have one?”

“That’s correct,” Pastorek said. I’ve got to get State Board (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) approval and I’m working to set that up. In fact, I have it on the agenda for Friday.”

The only problem with Pastorek’s answer was that he had already chosen a replacement for RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas and Fannin knew it.

In fact, Pastorek himself had announced the previous day, April 6, that John White, deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education would succeed Vallas.

Moreover, at the very time he was testifying on April 7, Pastorek’s Department of Education public information office was issuing a department press release announcing White’s appointment. The press release even quoted Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, and Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.

The press release, under the heading, “State and local leaders endorse John White as next RSD Superintendent,” read as follows:

BATON ROUGE, La – Less than 24 hours after State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek announced his pick to lead the state-run Recovery School District (RSD), an impressive list of state and local leaders is lining up to express their support for Pastorek’s selection. In making their endorsements, these officials join U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who yesterday praised the selection of John White. White, who began his career in education as an English teacher in a high-poverty school in New Jersey, is currently serving as Deputy Chancellor of Talent, Labor and Innovation for New York City, the nation’s largest school system.

Governor Bobby Jindal: “It’s a testament to Louisiana’s commitment to bold and innovative education reform that we’re able to attract talented public servants like John White to come to Louisiana and help move our education system forward. John is well qualified and we’re eager to work with him and Superintendent Pastorek to advance the Recovery School District and continue to improve educational opportunities for our children.”

Tomorrow, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will consider whether to authorize the State Superintendent of Education to appoint the next leader of the RSD.

On Friday, a press conference to formally introduce White will be held at 1 p.m. at Andrew Wilson Charter School in New Orleans.

Fannin allowed Pastorek to dig himself a sufficient hole before springing his trap. “It’s all over the news that one’s been selected and….you look surprised.”

“I’ve been working on selecting one for about eight months,” Pastorek said, less confident now.

“And you sit here today, under oath, telling us that you didn’t know that one was hired and that….”

“I haven’t hired anybody,” Pastorek protested. “I can’t hire anybody until the board approves it on Friday.”

“So you weren’t willing to share that you had made the selection? I think those questions were asked,” Fannin said.

“No, I don’t think that question was asked,” Pastorek said. “What I’ve been trying to do, Mr. Chairman, is, I’ve been trying to report to all my principals what my plan is to do. And I’m trying to get buy-in and support, trying to communicate to my people about that.”

“The way to get buy-in is to come to this committee and be forthcoming, forthright, with information about all you know,” Fannin admonished him. “I’m going to look you pretty straight and I have to tell you I don’t think that’s been (done)…. today.”

Another way to get buy-in is to not issue premature press releases. It’s just tacky.

There is so much story regarding Pastorek and his ed reform connections/manipulations, and it is a challenge to successfully and succinctly relay in a single post. When it came to getting White positioned as Pastorek’s successor as state superintendent (the real goal from day one with bringing White to Louisiana), Pastorek’s connection with former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, comes into play. Bush commanded a nonprofit comprised of state superintendents, Chiefs for Change (C4C), with which Pastorek remained for a while as “chief emeritus” and which, years later, White took over. Bush used C4C to push for White’s election as state superintendent. It is noteworthy that the 2011 La. BESE election was bombarded by hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-state billionaire cash to get ed reform sympathizers in office. (For more on Bush-Pastorek-White, see this post or read my chapters on Bush, Paul Vallas, and Eva Moskowitz in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes; for more on the 2011 purchase of BESE, click here.)

Following that 2011 BESE election, in early 2012, White breezed through as state superintendent.

But let’s step back to pre-reformer-purchased BESE.

The 2007-elected/appointed BESE majority was against having White– who had only been RSD superintendent for a month– slide in as interim state superintendent.

From the May 13, 2011, Advocate via the Louisiana principals’ blog:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pick to be interim state superintendent of education triggered criticism Thursday from the panel that will make the choice.

Three members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said Thursday they oppose Jindal’s choice. One other, Louella Givens, of New Orleans, is said to be opposed. If four BESE members oppose the move, it will fail.

The governor needs eight of 11 members of the panel to clear the way for John White, who took over as superintendent of the Recovery School District earlier this week with a $281,000 per year pay package.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, also criticized Jindal’s pick.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek announced on Tuesday that he is resigning effective Sunday.

The state superintendent is the governor’s chief lieutenant for public schools. The superintendent recommends and carries out policies that affect an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.

The RSD superintendent oversees 14 low-performing public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish and about 70 others in New Orleans.

The governor names three BESE members and eight are elected from single-member districts. BESE leaders plan to meet next week to pick an interim superintendent.

On April 8, [2011,] BESE approved White to become RSD superintendent 7-1 with three abstentions. Dale Bayard, of Lake Charles, was the lone “no” vote. Keith Guice, of Monroe; Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine; and Givens abstained.

All four were cited Tuesday as being opposed to White becoming interim superintendent even as word spread that Pastorek would quit.

Guice, who is also a former BESE president, said Thursday  he opposes White’s selection.

“I am looking at Mr. White’s qualifications, and I cannot support his candidacy,” Guice said.

“And it has nothing to do with the governor,” he added.

Guice said White lacks the education credentials to be a public school principal in Louisiana.

“We desperately need someone that can build some bridges with public schools, can communicate with the educators of Louisiana, who understands their problems,” he said.

White, 35, is former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system.

Bayard said he will oppose efforts to make White interim  state superintendent.

“The guy really needs to get seasoned to handle such an important job,” Bayard said.

Johnson also said she will oppose White becoming interim state superintendent.

“We brought him 30 days ago to be RSD superintendent,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, he has not had an opportunity to prove himself.”

Givens did not return a call for comment.

Walter Lee, of Mansfield, another BESE member, said he told Jindal’s office that he is undecided on White.

Lee said he would prefer a compromise candidate.

Under state law, BESE can only offer an interim superintendent a seven-month contract until a new board takes office in January.

If BESE goes along, White would reportedly  serve as both state and RSD superintendent, for now.

But Tucker said Thursday he told the Jindal administration that officials should find someone other than White to be interim state superintendent.

“I want him to be focused on RSD,” Tucker said of White.

Meanwhile, Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said Jindal was “possibly holding up” Senate committee action on a House-passed bill to redraw BESE boundaries.

Smith said the delay would be aimed at pressuring BESE members to back White while the new boundaries are finalized.

But state Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur and sponsor of the bill, said he requested the delay Wednesday because he was concerned that Pastorek’s resignation would dominate the meeting.

Bayard plans to seek re-election in October.

Asked if there was any linkage between his stance on White and new lines for his BESE district he said, “Anything’s possible.”

Johnson is not seeking another term.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the state needs an interim superintendent who can maintain Louisiana’s national reputation as a fertile ground for public school reforms.

White did get voted in as state superintendent in January 2012. Though delayed for seven months, Pastorek’s efforts to place White as Louisiana state superintendent paid off.

But let us return to discussion of RSD:

Another issue referenced above is that of former RSD superintendent, Paul Vallas, another market-based-reform opportunist non-teacher with an established history for butchering the finances of school districts (again, for details, see my Vallas chapters in A Chronicle of Echoes). Pastorek’s and Vallas’ time in Louisiana overlaps (2007 – 2011). It was a time of incredible squandering of federal funds. From my June 29, 2013, post on RSD fiscal history:

During Paul Vallas’ time a RSD superintendent (2007-2011), every annual state audit evidenced issues of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption. …

And some more awful handling of federal aid to RSD, chiefly during Vallas’ tenure:

state audit released Monday faults the Recovery School District for not properly overseeing modular campus construction after Hurricane Katrina, resulting in $6.1 million in questionable costs on the $105 million project. The project’s original budget increased by $29 million thanks to 60 change orders and contract amendments, the audit says. …

The [January 2007 to September 2009] report lands as New Orleans works its way through a massive school rebuilding plan funded in large part by nearly $2 billion in FEMA funds. It also comes just a week after [legislative auditor] Purpera’s office issued a separate audit showing that $2.7 million in property had been lost, misplaced or stolen from the Recovery School District in the last 4 years. …

The [January 2007 to September 2009] audit found that Arrighi-Simoneaux charged the RSD $170,571 for fuel for temporary generators that was never provided and $37,843 for 16 light pole foundations that were never built. An additional $472,852 that was charged for foundations “appears to be unreasonable for the service provided,” according to the audit. The firm billed at least $139,000 in work beyond the scope of the contract.

Arrighi-Simoneaux’s unit pricing may also have been too high. For instance, the company charged $110 to drill each of 180 four-inch holes in wooden floors, though the task takes less than 30 seconds, auditors say.

Here’s what Pastorek allowed to happen in the first year of Katrina recovery:

The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS (New Orleans Public Schools) real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations.

The security firm that billed RSD more than $20 million defends its profiteering by noting that no student was killed during the previous school year— thin proof given that no student was killed on campus in the previous 60 years either (with one sad, anomalous exception). That company, the Guidry Group from Texas, will keep its contract in the coming school year. Sodexho has never explained why it could not deliver hot food to those 22 campuses, and no public or media entity ever held its feet to the fire for that explanation. Its contract, too, continues. Alvarez & Marsal, for its part, merely said “whoops” when its lack of competence in the field for which it held a $30 million contract was exposed.

That’s what one gets from Pastorek leadership in a crisis situation: A chaotic hemorrhaging of recovery funding.

But Pastorek will watch out for his own. After all, he was willing to allow Louisiana taxpayers to fund Vallas’ repeated, personal trips clear across the country, as the November 22, 2009, Times-Picayune reports:

The superintendent of the Recovery School District drove his state-issued vehicle on numerous out-of-state personal trips in an arrangement that violated the state administrative code but had the blessing of his immediate supervisor, according to an audit report released this morning.

The report by the state Legislative Auditor found that RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas drove a state-owned, 2007 Dodge Durango on 41 out-of-state trips between July 2007 and April 2009.

“Superintendent Vallas reviewed a listing of these 41 trips and characterized 31 of them as personal in nature; 30 of the personal trips were to visit family in Illinois and along the Gulf Coast,” the report said.

The state paid for $946 in fuel costs for these trips and also paid $774 to cover damage that Vallas caused in a Nov. 2, 2008, car accident that happened while he was driving to a press conference in Chicago to discuss a constitutional convention in that state.

The report said Vallas also failed to maintain a log of how the vehicle was used, as state employees are required to do.

Vallas, who oversaw public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia before coming to New Orleans and still owns a home in Illinois, told auditors that he had verbal permission from state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek to use the SUV for personal trips. Pastorek confirmed that he had given the authorization.

Anything for a fellow reformer– including serving one who wants to privatize Los Angeles schools, billionaire Eli Broad. Consider this October 21, 2015, LA School Report:

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation said today Paul Pastorek, a former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who joined the foundation in an executive role earlier this year, has been appointed to lead the group’s efforts to expand charter schools in Los Angeles Unified. …

We have asked Paul to lead our foundation’s involvement in this particular initiative for the next several months, working closely with other funders and community organizations, until we ensure any plan reflects community and family needs for quality public schools,” the Broads said in a letter to “Friends” that was distributed today.

Few issues have roiled the LA Unified community more than the foundation’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district. An early report by the foundation said the goal is to serve as many as half the students in the district in 230 newly-created charter schools within the next eight years, an effort that would cost nearly half a billion dollars. 

It’s also a plan that district officials have said would eviscerate public education as it is now delivered by LA Unified.  …

As education superintendent in Louisiana from 2007 to 2011, Pastorek worked to establish more charter schools….

In 2017, Los Angeles school board succumbed to its first pro-charter majority; Broad spent almost $1.9M in the effort.

Broad was also involved in the out-of-state billionaire effort to buy Louisiana’s 2011 BESE election (the one on the heels of Pastorek’s resignation and work to get White in as his successor as state superintendent), which serves to (again) illustrate how ed reformers connect and reconnect help other ed reformers, which brings me back to the opening of my post:

As current chair of the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Pastorek will surely use that $250/hr. in consulting fees to charterize Puerto Rico.

And if history holds true, Pastorek will assist in steering the resulting federal funding toward any number of overpaid, incompetent edupreneurs in Puerto Rico even as he collects his overpayment and moves on to his next ed reform stint.

IMG_1356

Paul Pastorek

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)
.

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books
.

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.