Fewer students creates need for higher levy ?

Some of my critics claim that I’ve never seen a school levy that I didn’t like.

I suspect they are right. 

Education is central to every child’s right to become the person they aspire to be. It is the foundation of an innovative and growing economy. And it is vital to the problem solving that keeps communities healthy.  

And it gets more complex–and more expensive–as technology advances, jobs become more varied, and families get smaller and members busier. .  

Yet, I was both surprised and worried to see that the Caldwell School District was asking voters to approve a supplemental levy $1.6 million higher than 2018’s because enrollment was decreasing. 

Now, the Caldwell School District has a record of frugality and of strong support from the voters, but the increase worried me enough that I took some questions to April Burton, chief financial officer for the District.

Why is Caldwell’s enrollment decreasing?  School enrollment dropped 285 this year as two new charter schools opened with 572 students. Elevate Academy, a career/technical school in Caldwell, enrolled 314 students, and Forge International in Middleton, 258. Nampa and several other schools, including half the area’s charters, also lost enrollment. 

In 2020-21 Elevate Academy plans to enroll an additional 124 students, and Mosaics Public School, a new charter serving K-4th grade students, plans to enroll 300. Those 424 students will come from schools throughout the area, but Caldwell is preparing for a loss of as many as 378 students.  

All three of these new schools were chartered by the state, not the school district. 

Caldwell has three other charter schools enrolling over 1500 students, but their enrollment has been fairly steady since 2011.  

Why does an enrollment decrease create a need for a larger supplemental levy? Idaho’s state government currently provides approximately $100,000 for ‘classrooms units’ of varying sizes depending on grade level, school size, and special needs. Caldwell figures that losing 378 students next year would cut its state funding by $1.9 million.  

Expenses won’t go down nearly that much.  

Burton provided a ‘for instance.”  Mosaics plans to add 60 2nd graders. If 30 came from Sacajawea and 30 from Wilson, Caldwell could cut two teachers. If, however, each of Caldwell’s six elementary schools lost 10 students, the difference would be only one or two students per classroom. Costs would not go down.  

Caldwell cannot eliminate classes or teachers until they know what grades and courses lose students.  “This levy is only for two years,” Burton said. “We need that time to study the changes and make cuts. Our request in 2022 may be very different.”  

How can Caldwell increase the supplemental levy without increasing the tax rate? The district is paying off some major bonds and will be diverting that money to the supplemental levy.   

Increasing property values made it possible for the school district to lower the taxing rate for the 2018 levy from $4.19 to $3.66 per thousand dollars of evaluation. The district will keep the lower rate for this levy.   

If property values continue to rise, that $3.66 figure could actually go down.  

Can Caldwell continue to attract students as charter schools proliferate?  Students in public schools work side by side with students of different cultures, abilities, and income levels. Smaller districts can’t offer that. 

Levy funds are vital in  offering the variety of programs that interest Caldwell’s students, programs ranging from AP and STEM classes to music, drama and sports.   

I may still meet a levy I don’t like one day, but now isn’t the time.    

Education: Questions about Charter School Proposal

by Judy Ferro

The Caldwell School District will host a community discussion on a proposed new charter school next Monday at 6 p.m. in the district office at Washington and 16th.

Right off the idea of a charter school to serve the 15% of Caldwell youth declared “at risk” of failing to graduate sounds good. A major objection to charter schools is that they bleed the best and brightest (some would add wealthiest and whitest) kids from public schools.

So who can object to a charter school proposal to work with the kids with learning and motivational problems?

Well, idahospromise.org has a two-part editorial by Vallivue teacher Levi Cavener stating some good reasons to oppose John and Joan Hall’s proposal for a Pathways in Education School in Caldwell.

The charter reads like an educator’s dream hitting all the right points—small group instruction, individualized programs, flexibility, productivity, even self-direction. But Cavener points out that the budget calls for only six FTE teachers for an enrollment of 300 students.

Can anyone advocate having a single teacher for every 50 at-risk students?

A 2006 Los Angeles Times article on the first 40 California schools for “at risk” students run by the Halls indicates how this might be done. Students there did most of their work at home and met with teachers only twice a week. So are the Halls asking Idahoans to pay as much for four hours a week of class time as we regularly do for 28?

Just how many total hours of instruction will each student receive each week? How will these hours be divided among large-group, small-group, and one-on-one instruction?

The article also mentions that the state of California was objecting to $46 million of overcharges and to the $600,000 annual salary for the Halls. At that time about 11% of the students in the Halls’ charter schools were graduating. (I’d quote a more recent article if I could find one.)

Caldwell has a good alternative school. Canyon Springs Alternative School does a lot to encourage student responsibility and cooperative planning. Its four-year graduation rate is just under 50%. Vallivue’s alternative school has a higher rate, but Middleton’s and Nampa’s are lower. Cavener points out that about 30% of students at a North Idaho charter offering a program similar to Pathways in Education earn credit.

On-line virtual schools are notorious for signing kids up, getting the state’s money, and then letting the kids drop out.

What is the average graduation rate at the Hall’s PIE high schools?  The rates at the top 10 and bottom 10?   

And let’s not ignore the money thing. Cavener states that our “local” PIE Charter will be managed by the Halls’ Pathways Management Group (PMG). The cost will be about $170 thousand a year for the first three years and then be $127 per student per month.

If you think that means costs will level out after start-up expenses, do the math; that is $38,100 a month for the 300 projected students. Since the school gets to decide which students need summer school, that’s a possible $457,200 for a 12-month school year. Mind you, that’s not total expenses—that’s overhead. There are also materials to be bought from other Hall entities. (An Alabama articles lists five.)

Is PIE here now because Idaho just passed a law that allows charter schools to hire teachers who are uncertified and not even college graduates?

Someone should be talking to administrators at a dozen or so school districts that have chartered a Hall school. What overhead rate are the paying? What is the teacher turnover rate? Are teachers competent and qualified?

We’re talking about the last best-chance for many of our youth.

Education: Charter Schools a Colossal Failure

by Dr. Lilburn Wesche, NNU professor emeritus
Charter schools were initiated with great expectations. The original idea was to establish research or experimental schools which would not be subject to some of the antiquated or restrictive state or federal codes, such as requiring a certain number of minutes per subject, a specific curriculum, only licensed teachers, class size and other regulations.
But it was not to be! After a decade of significant charter school growth, research and experience from around the country show that most charter schools are failing to explore better approaches to learning or to serve students with the greatest needs.
Instead they are often disrupting communities, increasing racial segregation, and introducing new kinds of corruption into education, all the while producing similar or worse educational outcomes than public schools. The evidence is mounting that placing education in the hands of unelected privately run organizations whose pri-mary goal is profit or prejudice is a disaster for students, teachers, and communi-ties.
In a society which values equality, deliberating setting aside public funds to establish elite or pseudo segregated schools flies in the face of the American dream.
By emphasizing a narrow focus such as ‘classics’ ‘ liberal arts’ ‘mathematics’ ‘literature’ foreign languages’ ‘technology’ or specific themes such as ‘patriotism,’ or ‘essentials’, charter schools established parameters which assured them of a specific audience. Transportation problems and admission standards which require certain academic potential or performance further reduce the possibilities for special needs applicants and children of poverty.
As a result, public schools become burdened with a far greater percentage of special needs students, second language learners, children with minimal or no parent sup-port, and who are ‘different’.
Concentrating on a limited curricular focus at the elementary or even secondary level denies many charter school students sufficient exposure to a broad general education.
Despite the restricted audience a number of studies indicate test scores of charter school students are little different or below public school scores and show no valid superiority. In fact, when scores are limited to students with similar advantages, public school students do better.
The opportunity to establish a school outside the general system has enabled profit seeking promoters to attempt to privatize the public school system. These special interest groups, as well as others have created schools which discriminate, segregate, indoctrinate, generate elitism and limit student population. Worst of all charter schools have become a major movement to eliminate respect for diversity, to exclude those who don’t fit the norm.
Granted, the concept of ‘all men are created equal’ put forth by our founding fa-thers really meant ‘all Caucasian, northern European male property owners’. But as a people, most of us, contrary to some politicians, do believe that ALL of us should be equal in opportunity before the law.
There is a place for what charter schools were intended to do and it could readily be done by public schools. Districts or schools, rather than pseudo private charter schools, can be selected to pilot new ideas. Providing funds for research and incorporating those ideas which merit universal application needs only courageous, innovative leadership and adequate financing by state and local policy makers.
Ideas such as mastery learning and continuous progress utilizing team teaching, year around schools, peer tutoring, small and large group instruction, professional development, flipped classroom, technology in the classroom, core curriculum, on line learning, blended instruction, and other strategies can benefit from carefully structured practice and research. Successes can be transferred so all students benefit.
A major objective in every class and school in America should be to provide those knowledges, skills and qualities which will foster open mindedness, the capacity to think critically and be receptive to that which will make for a better world.
Critical thinking begins with the question: Why? Why are we doing what we are doing, and how can we improve?
Unfortunately, policy makers begin with the question: What are we doing and what needs to change that won’t increase costs?
The takeover of the charter school movement by self interest groups and profiteers is an indictment of public school policy makers. Maybe it’s time for the public to open their minds to the vista of what could be and demand that education, not corporate greed, be our priority.
Editor: Terry Gilbert Today’s Columnist: Lilburn Wesche, Ed.D. Contact: glennsson@q.com
Dr. Lilburn Wesche, NNU professor emeritus, has been a secondary school teacher and administrator, university professor and administrator, and education consultant. He is past president of the Seattle Uni-versity and SW Idaho PDK Chapters and has served on committees and councils of numerous professional organizations.

Education: Fewer minorities in Idaho charter schools

by Levi Cavener

     The charter school movement in Idaho is often couched in terms of “choice” for families to select an educational environment that is best for their child. Yet the “freedom” to choose charter schools appears not to be a choice. At minimum, it’s an uphill battle for Idaho’s minority students.   

      Data from public records requests delivered by the Idaho Department of Education clearly indicates that consistently across the state minority population, students are disproportionately left out of Idaho’s charter schools.   

      Remember, charter schools are public schools open to all of Idaho’s students regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or disability. Yet in instance after instance, most Idaho charter school student demographic makeups are grossly imbalanced in comparison to the community demographics of the school district where those charters   operate.   

       From the Idaho Department of Education’s data, here are three specific examples from Nampa.

      Student free and reduced lunch eligibility is an indicator of families with lower incomes, and 61.4 percent of students in the Nampa School District qualify for free and reduced lunch. Yet charters that operate within Nampa have a substantial gap in the number of students attending their schools that are eligible for free and reduced lunch.   

      A sample of three Nampa charter schools indicates the disparity: Victory Charter has a 32 percent student population eligible for free and reduced lunch, but that is nearly a 50 percent difference from the surrounding Nampa School District at 61.4 percent. Liberty Charter isn’t much better at an underwhelming 37 percent. Legacy Charter follows Liberty closely with 38.5 percent.    

      In other words, there is a substantial disparity between the number of low-income students Nampa School District enrolls and the number of low-income students that Nampa charter schools enroll.

       This trend continues for special education students. Nampa School District has nearly 1,500 students who qualify for special education services; with 15,000 students, that’s 10 percent of the district’s student population. Despite this demographic norm, Victory and Idaho Arts only have a 5 percent special education enrollment; again, a difference of almost 50 percent in comparison to the district where it operates. Liberty is only slightly better with a 6 percent special education enrollment.   

      Keep in mind that special education services can be expensive. When charter schools do not share an equitable burden for providing services to a proportional amount of special education students, the cost of those services is passed on to taxpayers, often in the form of levies. Levies, in whole or in part, are often used to pay for important special education services.     

      This demographic imbalance continues with racial minority groups, and the state Department of Education data here is stark — 38.2 percent of Nampa School District’s students are not white, yet only 24 of Victory Charter’s 384 students are reported as being from a minority racial group. That’s a shockingly small 6.2 percent. Liberty doesn’t do much better at 14.1 percent of its 404 students.   

       Keep in mind many minority students also require costly English language learner programs, which means the local school district, like with special education services, picks up a disproportionate amount of the fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, this pattern of negligence is consistent across dozens of Idaho’s public charter schools.   

      While some would argue this disparity is a necessary byproduct of so called school “choice,” we need to inquire why it appears minority student families are actively choosing not to enroll in charter schools.   

       Are Idaho charter schools meeting their legal obligation to provide appropriate special education, English language learner and minority student services? It’s time to acknowledge this dirty little secret and find a solution to fix this glaring imbalance in Idaho’s public charter schools.   

Levi B. Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell. Data referenced in this column is from the State Department of Education and can be found in entirety on his blog at IdahosPromise.org.

Education: About Charter schools and Teach for America

While Teach for America has been Idaho’s biggest educational issue this month, a Washington State court delivered a bombshell by declaring charter schools against their state constitution, one with wording very much like Idaho’s.

December 12th, Judge Jean Rietschel of the Superior Court for King County ruled the use of state funds for charter schools violated the constitutional provision requiring that state education revenues be “exclusively applied to the support of common schools.”

Sneaky little word, “common.” One might think that, with state-funded charter schools in 42 states, they could be regarded as “common.” Not so. According to the judge, the traditional meaning of “common schools” is open to all and governed by an elected board.

Of course, appeals are certain, but, as education pundit Diane Ravitch points out, charter schools have used the claim that they are private corporations to fend off lawsuits by employees and, in one California case, to avoid prosecution for misuse of public funds.

This ruling has to be unsettling to the directors and employees of Idaho’s nearly 50 charter schools as well as their 16,000+ students. An uncertain future can only hurt the search for financing for start-up costs and buildings.

Like many educators, I have mixed feelings about charter schools. Some things are good—choice, small, parental involvement, expanded curriculum. Meridian’s technical and medical charter school graduates have marketable skills few others their age have.

The negatives, however, cannot be ignored. Charter schools take not only funding away from public schools, but also many student role models and involved parents. Charter school student bodies tend to be homogenous, depriving their students of exposure to the cultural diversity of our society.

Public schools have been melting pots where a doctor’s kid might be partnered with a homeless one, an Anglo with a Hispanic, an academically-minded student with a so-so-one. Students usually learn to respect and value persons with other backgrounds and skills and to reject stereotypes about “all” members of a culture.

How can our melting pot work when kids only meet students selected for being like them?

We need to address this challenge because it is likely that any court rulings will change the relationship between elected school boards and charter school governance rather than eliminate the charter school.

Now, about Idaho’s problem with Teach for America.

The argument that our teacher shortage justifies hiring teachers with little training rankles. The state of Idaho created our teacher shortage by heavy-handed anti-teacher measures. During the downturn we made heavier cuts in teacher numbers than any other state, cuts which forced teachers to carry heavier work loads and heavier guilt for the kids they couldn’t reach. Our state government followed that up with insults to their professionalism and attacks on their rights. This teacher “shortage” was artificially and purposely created.

Ironically, TFA attracts college graduates into teaching by pointing out the professional skills that teaching requires. Their website implies that teaching for two years will give you the leadership ability to conquer the world. Certainly a different view than our legislature’s, which seems to be that teachers are natural malingerers who must be hounded and controlled.

According to the TFA website, their training enables new college graduates to raise students’ expectations, plan backward from student goals to classroom activities, adapt their efforts for maximum student learning, and work continuously to maximize student learning.

In five weeks.

It brings to mind the story of a man who asked a golf pro how much he’d charge to teach him golf that afternoon. The pro said $5,000.

The man protested that was outrageous. “You teach 12 sessions for only $900!”

“Twelve sessions,” the pro said, “doesn’t require a miracle.”