The observation may be enough to make Tea Party darling Dan Patrick choke, but he has a couple of annoying things in common with one of the key figures of President Obama’s administration. I am talking about the soon-to-be-retired Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Both profess to be education “reformers,” but neither has a clue about how to improve public schools. Instead, they promote policies that do more harm than good to students and educators.
Both are big proponents of standardized testing, and each has championed the diversion of tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools, where the vast majority of school children in Texas and throughout the nation are educated, many in overcrowded and under-equipped classrooms.
As a state senator, Patrick voted to cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets in Texas, and, as lieutenant governor, he left billions of tax dollars sitting in the bank while public schools remain under-funded. Then, this week, he renewed his tired call for diverting education tax dollars to pay for private school vouchers and expand charter schools, many of which are operated by for-profit companies.
Two weeks ago, only a few days before he announced he would be leaving his Cabinet post in December, Duncan announced the Department of Education would give another $157 million to create more charter schools throughout the country, despite criticisms by his own department’s inspector general that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing how charter schools spend their federal dollars.
Some charters are good, but others are operated by corporations more interested in how much money they can make from your tax dollars than they are in how well they educate children. Studies have shown that charters, on the whole, perform no better – and, in some cases, worse – than traditional public schools, but they continue to be promoted by self-styled “reformers” who would rather pay for placeboes than adequately fund public education.
Counting the new grants, the Department of Education has now awarded more than $3 billion to charter schools since fiscal 1995, but the Washington Post reported, “The federal government has not tracked how its dollars have been used by charter schools, nor has it studied their academic performance.”
The Department of Education’s inspector general, in a 2012 report, found dozens of charter schools that received millions of federal dollars never even opened their doors to students.
Among the latest grants, according to the Post, Ohio got the largest single award of $32.5 million, even though that state has “been at the center of several recent charter school scandals” involving inflated enrollment figures and evidence of inflated evaluations.
Duncan said it was largely up to state agencies and officials to hold charters accountable for their tax dollars. I guess he means agencies such as the under-funded Texas Education Agency and officials such as school-privatization champion Dan Patrick .
How reassuring is that?