vouchers

Sen. Al Franken condemns Indiana voucher system as ‘perverse’ for sending funds to middle-class families

PHOTO: Courtesy of C-SPAN
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken speaks during Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Education Committee.

Yesterday during a hearing about Betsy DeVos before the U.S. Senate Education Committee, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) held up Indiana’s voucher program as a “perverse” model of what he fears might happen if DeVos is confirmed as secretary of education.

“Basically what was happening is we were taking money from public schools where poor kids need those resources and giving them to middle class kids to continue going to religious school,” Franken said. “How perverse is that?”

Critics of using taxpayer dollars to fund private education say, as Franken did, that vouchers drain money and resources from public schools. Voucher supporters, like DeVos, argue they provide families more choices for how to educate their children.

Franken cited data on Indiana’s system of taxpayer funded vouchers, which has been in place since 2011, showing that in recent years, more and more students using vouchers have not first attended public schools, noting that many of Indiana’s voucher-accepting schools are private Christian schools.

In 2011, just 9 percent of voucher users had never before gone to public school. That was true for more than half of students using vouchers in 2016.

Indiana’s voucher program is also seeing more growth among middle-class families, which Franken also referenced in his comments.

An Indiana family of four making less than $44,863 per year can receive a voucher of up to 90 percent of the funding that their local public district would receive from the state. Since 2013, families earning up to $89,725 per year have also been eligible — but they get only half the state aid their district would receive. In 2016, 22 percent of voucher students were from the suburbs, compared to 16 percent in 2011.

Indiana has one of the largest voucher programs in the country, with the number of students using vouchers rising from 3,911 in 2011 to 32,686 in 2016. Nearly 3 percent of Indiana kids use public funds to pay private school tuition.

DeVos, whose nomination won narrow approval from committee members, now goes before the full Senate.

Find Franken’s comments here:

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.