What’s the Plan Phil?

DSC_0161Remember the episode of Modern Family when Phil attempted to save the old family station wagon from rolling down a hill by jumping on the hood? (video clip here)

What’s the plan, Phil?

Pretty sure I used that same phrase while reading through HR610 this week. HR610, a bill introduced by Representative King (R, IA),  which offers among other things, vouchers to all families of school-aged children in the name of school choice. In fact the “short title” of this legislation is “Choices in Education Act of 2017“. I have a lot of questions about this without even debating that “choices” in schooling already exist (a post for another day).

So here we go:

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Just scroll through the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (and subsequent amendments and reauthorizations). This is the education bill HR610 proposes to replace. School libraries, migratory students, students in poverty, neglected and impoverished students, homeless students, English Language Learners. HR610 will do away with all of the legislation that began in 1965 during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. All of it. What will support those students? A voucher program funded through block grants, apparently.

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So here are some of my questions:

The funding: Although HR610 does not come right out and say it directly, can we all suppose that by eliminating the Elementary & Secondary Act of 1965 and all of the amendments, any further funding of current federal grant programs will disappear?  And through elimination of this funding source, what services currently available to students and families will disappear?

This financial report, from the Feb. 15 2017 Lowell School Committee Meeting shows the sources of Grant Funding and expenditures to date. <report>. Picking out the obvious federal funding (Title I, II, III) would include $7,386,139 and eliminate services for student support (for example, social workers in the case of Title I).  Additional federal grants fund the 21st Century Schools programs. If those grants were eliminated, there would no longer be extended day or enrichment programs for students. Need homework help? Tough darts.

Another report from the 15 February school committee notes ALL grant funding – private and government. Now look at this line from HR610 just in case there was any doubt that the federal government wishes to have a hand on non-federal monies (This quote is from Section 105).

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Will this language from section 105 necessitate re-allocation of STATE funding toward a voucher program as well?

Who is counting the students and when: The program proposed in HR610 necessitates an accurate count of ALL students in a local education agency (LEA). By ALL, HR610 means all students attending public, charter, private (religious schools included here) and those who are home-schooled.

In Massachusetts, the counts of students has historically taken place on October 1, meaning that a student who is not registered for school in a district on September 29 and arrives, say on October 2nd, is not included in the Foundation Enrollment (click here for MA guidelines on who is included in the count) and therefore not part of the calculation for the Foundation Budget or per pupil allocation from the state. Wherever that student was on October 1st receives the funding for the student for that academic year.

The inverse of that is also true for a student who transfers out of a district on October 2, so while this makes my accounting-brain crazy, statistically, it probably is pretty close unless an entire school closed in mid-year and resulted in a large population of new students flooding a local district.

Since private school students and home-schooled students are not included in the current method of calculation it follows that adding in those students to any enrollment numbers would make a difference in the resulting amounts of money allocated per pupil. The bottom line would mean that traditional public schools would receive less funding per student. Slice the pie a bit thinner because more need a share.

For a community such as Lowell with a large contingent of students with challenging needs, even less resources will no doubt have devastating results on the students who most need the supports and services currently in place. What will be eliminated?

A few more questions, so bear with me:

Under Section 105.2, HR610 requires that the amount of the voucher may not exceed the cost of tuition (fees, and transportation) for a private school or the cost of homeschooling?

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For me, this provision opens up a number of issues. Are private (and religious) schools and home-schoolers willing to open their financial records to auditing so that a federal overseer can confirm that the voucher does not exceed the costs as defined by HR610? What costs will be allowed for home-schooling families. Program costs? Costs for the space within a dwelling (like a home office)?  And for both private and home-schools, will the same requirements for time on task and academic year now apply? Will private schools  be required to accept every student regardless of academic need or disability, or will those students either sign away their rights to a free and equitable education or just not receive the services that they require for academic success?

Public schools have open doors; they accept every student and provide not only academic support but often social supports. I’m not certain that this proposed legislation does anything more than pander to a select group, and it concerns me. The students who require the supports provided by federal title grants will be hurt by HR610, and I cannot in good conscience support it.

“What’s the plan, Phil?” Other than dismantling public education, I’m not sure.

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