Saturday, October 17, 2015


GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS DEBATE-In my last post I promised to take a look at The Great Public Schools Now Initiative, and report on the results. 

Not being rich or politically useful to Eli Broad, I do not know him personally, and am unlikely to.  Growing up in Orange County in the 50’s and 60’s, however, I am familiar with KB Home, and its alter ego, SunAmerica.  Back in the day, KB Home was famous for building cheap housing for the influx of folks moving into California, and also running an insurance company that handled the mortgages. 

As the orange groves came down and the homes went up, Orange County became my parents’ generation’s version of affordable housing. KB homes also had a reputation for being of ‘interesting’ construction quality. Of course I could just be bitter (as a third generation Californian) about the loss of the orange groves. 

Anyhow, Broad also branched out into the big-time insurance business, again targeting the generation that was buying their homes, and offering wonderful retirement instruments called Variable Annuities. And boy were they variable, as it turned out. By the late 90’s, Broad sold SunAmerica to AIG (yes, that AIG) -- leaving behind a legacy of financial scandals at both KB Home and SunAmerica. By then, of course, Mr. Broad had completed the morphing of himself into kindly old “Uncle Eli”, the philanthropist. 

So here’s “Uncle Eli” … who now wants to do to public education in Los Angeles what he did to the housing and insurance markets. Do not be deceived -- if you read the 44 pages of The Great Public Schools Now Initiative, that’s what it boils down to -- the “financialization” and privatization of our public school system. In that context, I would argue that the millions spent in the recent LAUSD election for Charter candidates was just “seed money” for the private sector takeover of the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

Broad’s Great Public Schools Now document is tailored to the foundation world of big bucks -- “seats” instead of students, and “50% market share” as the eight year goal.  Individual Charter experiments are a thing of the past because “our city’s highest performing charter school operators are prepared to serve many more...” Emphasis on the word operator. 

This goal is coupled with the up-front declaration that “A dedicated pool of philanthropic capital will enable charter schools, their partner organizations, and advocates to work together to transform education in Los Angeles.” When I hear the words philanthropic and capital together, it’s time to gargle and check underneath the platitudes. 

In this case, the details emerge in the Appendices to the document. There are almost 50 listed “operators,” together with the promise that if more companies get with the program, they too could be added to the gravy train list of running small Charter School Districts. 

That is what this stuff is really about -- a network of private school districts, not individual schools, designed to supplant the LAUSD using the LAUSD’s taxpayer money -- and without the administrative overhead and inconvenient rules the LAUSD has to follow in spending taxpayer money. These “new” school districts would have the freedom to pretty much spend the money as they wish. This would likely guarantee the breakup of the LAUSD. 

Paying for the eight year goals and producing the deliverables are to be accomplished through two lists of donors in Appendix B -- a list of some 21 non-profit foundations grouped by annual giving, and a list of “prominent” Los Angeles billionaires that Broad thinks he can get to step up to the plate. 

Heck, if you want to see a list of LA billionaires, you might just want to check out the Appendix just for the fun of it. 

Let’s look at the prize. The LAUSD’s annual budget is around $7 billion this year. The Great Public Schools Now initiative envisions investing $490 million dollars over eight years to take over about 50% of the LAUSD budget. Even assuming that the LAUSD budget remained static, that’s some $56 billion over eight years. So the seed money of less than $61 million a year is designed to take over at least 1/2 of $56 billion. Pretty good leverage and that’s what it is:  a highly leveraged non-taxable investment by the few to literally supplant the current Los Angeles K-12 educational system for all of us. 

It seems to me that if we want to break up the LAUSD into smaller school districts, as has often been proposed in the past, the voters should be able to vote on the issue in a ballot initiative -- instead of simply turning the education of our children over to a bunch of rich folks who don’t have to follow the rules and have no public accountability for what they do. 

Or, if the voters  want to simply wipe out the current educational system and go to vouchers (a chit for however many thousands of dollars per child) that can be used anywhere, from home schooling to religious schools to charter schools, then let us at least be honest about it and have such a vote. Let’s not sneak around the edges with proposals like Uncle Eli’s. 

Reading between the lines, it is also apparent that a lot of the real money to pay for all of this is generated by ostracizing anyone who is currently a veteran teacher in LA’s school system. If you are currently a teacher with any experience and credentials, you are “old school” and part of the problem. You are also undoubtedly (gasp) intellectually ruined by being in a union with its entitlement philosophy and outrageous benefits. 

The Great Public Schools Now program has no room for you, Veteran Teachers. They are going to hire the young, the fresh, and the cheap, and manage them with their new educational model where you just follow their plan and all will be well. However one feels about unions, this is a pretty cheesy and disingenuous way to zap the wages, health insurance and pension benefits that help prop up what’s left of the middle class in Los Angeles. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it repugnant to simply wipe out a couple of generations of men and women who have had the temerity to go out and be teachers – working to try and educate our children as best they can under increasingly challenging conditions. I personally remember a number of my teachers from elementary school, high school, Fullerton Jr. College, Cal State Fullerton, and the University of California, Berkeley. They are largely responsible for making me who I am today, and actually teaching me to learn how to learn for the rest of my life. I do not recall any venture capitalist “philanthropists” or billionaires who had much of a positive educational impact on me. I have great hesitation in turning the education of our children over to them. 

If you think my characterization is extreme, check out this throwaway from page 25 of the report: “The number of parents with children in charter schools now dwarfs the number of teachers who are members of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. In addition, and as the chart below illustrates, the number of parents with children on charter waitlists now exceeds the number of UTLA members.” The take away here is not subtle -- teacher unions and their members,bad…charter schools good

To make sure that these future teachers are not tainted, again the private sector steps in. On page 35 of the report we have a list of “human capital partners”, public relations jargon for teacher mills, who can make money by training teachers specifically for charter schools. Heck, these institutions may even qualify to make the potential teachers take out student loans, so they can start their careers in debt and work for cheap.  

You will notice that I have not even touched on the complicated subject of trying to measure how LAUSD and our public schools shape up compared to charter schools. 

Maybe more to come...


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