June 1, 2020

Hypocritical advocates don’t condemn public schools for fiscal sleight of hand

Public schools in New Mexico aren’t funding students equitably, so says the U.S. Department Education who accuse the state’s leaders of “diverting [$63 million] in federal Impact Aid grants” intended to help school districts that are disadvantaged by their low tax bases.

The feds found that New Mexico wasn’t passing the “equity test,” which by law requires “the difference in per-student spending between the public district or charter school with the highest rate in the state and the one with the lowest must not exceed 25 percent.”

As is, the state’s difference between its highest and lowest is 30%. Not only does that put them out of compliance, it also illustrates the equity-killing effects of business as usual.

Dylan Mullan from the Sante Fe New Mexican reporting includes a nugget that reveals a massive rip in the public education seam:

The Impact Aid Program has long created controversy in New Mexico.

While education funding in many states is heavily dependent on local property taxes, New Mexico divvies its funds through a complex enrollment-based formula. It has for years reduced the amount of state funding it sends to districts that receive the Impact Aid grants.

But districts, including those in tribal communities, have opposed the practice. Many pushed for legislative measures this year that would have allowed them to keep a larger share of the federal money.

Mike Hyatt, superintendent of Gallup-McKinley County Schools — one of the three districts that sought the September hearing — said his schools, which serve a high number of Navajo students, received $29 million in Impact Aid this year. That led to a reduction in state funding by about $22 million, he said.

“It’s extremely clear our school funding streams are inequitable in this state,” Hyatt said.

Districts need the federal Impact Aid money to build and maintain facilities because they can’t raise enough construction funds through property taxes, he said.

If this type of fiscal gaming was found to be solely a problem in non-district or non-public schools the public education cultists would take to social media calling it everything from racism to fraud. Billionaires would be assailed. Reformers would be harangued. Another day, another tantrum of the privileged.

But, because it happens in the system they defend uncritically it’s not called racism or fraud. It’s not called anything at all.

And, this is why I tire so easily of the doublespeak common among the ed cult who want us to praise public schools for “taking all comers” and “serving all children” and being a “democratically” governed “public good,” while they conveniently look past gross structural inequalities that aren’t a flaw machine, but a feature of its system.

It not as if they don’t see the problem. Even left-leaning billionaire-funded advocacy groups like ProPublica describe their preferred system in unambiguous detail.

Consider this clear preamble to their study of New Mexico’s “miseducation.”

ProPublica has found that in states across the country, Black and Hispanic students are, on average, less likely to be selected for gifted programs and take AP courses than their white peers. They are also more likely, on average, to be suspended and expelled.

If you want to sell something to Black and Brown families this isn’t exactly a winning pitch. In fact, it clearly could justify arguments for for parental choice and educational alternatives to district schools.

The left-leaning (and billionaire funded) Washington Post wrote last year “Overwhelmingly white school districts received $23 billion more than predominantly nonwhite school districts in state and local funding in 2016, despite serving roughly the same number of children, a new report finds.”

How is that not racism or fraud?

Why are we – parents of color who can read, write and think – supposed to be buck dancing loyalists for an institution that effectively redlines our children into low-opportunity tracks that have lifelong consequences?

And, where is the union-funded “report” written by for-profit communications consultants (and republished by billionaire-funded network of white progressive “publications”) calling for a moratorium on district schools until we can regulate them well enough to ensure they aren’t distributing funding and opportunity on the basis of race and class?

The New America Foundation, also billionaire-funded by the way, also finds widespread funding disparities between states, districts, in particular states themselves, and between districts.

Fraud. Racism. Classism. Baked into the system. But, we are to believe the system is for all of us, and we should be committed to it even as it sorts us and apportions opportunity in ways that reproduce the hallmarks of an unequal society.

I started with an example from New Mexico of how games can be played with school dollars that create gaps in opportunity. But, let’s tell the truth: public schooling is a rigged from top to bottom, it does not serve everyone equally well, and its loudest proponents can’t tell you that because they’re too busy fighting the emergence of any competition to their precious (and unjust) system.

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