"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Turner Decision Sends MO Legislators Back To the Drawing Board

In an unusual ruling yesterday judge David Lee Vincent III ruled in favor of the Clayton School District saying that students did not have the right to transfer to accredited districts for free. The ruling hinges on the last two words in that sentence. Judge Vincent said that the Hancock Amendment, which prevents the state from creating unfunded mandates, makes it impossible for school districts to comply with the student transfer law (which had already been ruled valid in previous court cases)  because it places a financial burden on receiving school districts. If schools were forced to comply, Vincent wrote in his 16-page decision, it “would overwhelm area school resources to the extent of adversely impacting local districts. To no ones surprise, it all boils down to the money.

Judge Vincent had heard one of these cases before. He ruled in favor of the school districts in 2008, but the state's high court overturned his ruling two years later and sent the case back to him for trial.  Some definitive legal argument had to be made, because the list of unaccredited school districts is growing. St. Louis city schools were first, followed by Riverview Gardens and Kansas City school districts.  The legislature has been working on legislation to address the problem, like allowing adjacent districts to annex unaccredited schools which was being considered in Kansas City. They also were working on a possible business tax credit option that would allow some of the public school students to go to private schools on scholarships paid for by local businesses.

Yesterday's ruling provides more scaffolding upon which to build a solution, but the full answer is still as clear as soup.

There are now stronger calls for the complete dismantling of the KCSD which has been deemed incompetent. But St Louis is under the governance of a three-member Special Administrative Board (SAB), which has a member appointed by the Governor, one by the Mayor of St. Louis and one by the President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, and those hand picked individuals did not save St. Louis schools from unaccreditation. 

Watch for the next rallying cry to have school districts turned over to mayoral control. Mayoral control of school district matters is not unique. New York City, Boston, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., are among the cities giving ultimate responsibility for their schools to their mayors.  

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has chosen Breakthrough Charter Schools as his ticket out of poor city schools. D.C. Mayor Gray has developed the public charter school board and committed an additional $25.7 million to help those schools next year. The D.C. Public Charter School Board currently oversees 52 public charter schools on 93 campuses serving more than 29,000 students living in every ward of the city.  Public charter schools now serve approximately 39% of all public school students in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Bloomberg has pushed for increasing the number of charter schools in NYC for years. Most recently he pushed for, and got, teacher ratings to be made public, including ratings of 217 charter school teachers. [In a weird twist, one of the purported benefits of charter schools is their high teacher turn over. This is supposed to indicate a more efficient system that identifies bad teachers earlier and gets rid of them faster than public schools.]

Given this history with mayoral control, in our current education reform environment, it is not unreasonable to see people lobbying to give KC and STL mayors governance over their school districts. And when that happens, look for a push for charter schools in both cities. We will be watching to see which hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs or wealthy capitalists are salivating at the cities' borders waiting for their chance to meet with the mayor to get their charters open.

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