Best of the Blogs
| NEWS | District Dossier
Want to buy a house with a no-interest loan? Consider becoming a superintendent in California.
Perks such as district-financed home loans have become increasingly common for superintendents across the state, and those extras—and base-pay levels—are coming under fire from some lawmakers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, both small and large districts are giving compensation packages that top and sometimes even double the $176,000 in salary and benefits that Gov. Jerry Brown earns.
For example, when Max McGee was hired as Palo Alto Unified's next superintendent this year, he received a compensation package of $295,000 in base pay, $9,000 as an annual car allowance, $6,000 for life-insurance premiums, and an up-to-$1 million no-interest home loan, according to the Chronicle.
Superintendents' hefty pay packages didn't vary too much between small and large districts. The newspaper found that Lane Weiss, the superintendent of the Saratoga Union Elementary district, which has 2,100 students, is making $317,000—on par with Richard Carranza's salary of $319,000 in the 58,000-student San Francisco Unified district.
Among the highest-paid school employees in California last year? Three fired superintendents from Bay Area districts who received six-figure severance payouts.
State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reacted harshly to the Chronicle's findings. Said Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco: "Last year, the legislature invested many billions of additional dollars into education with the intent that they benefit the classroom as much as possible, not top administrators' salaries and perks."
And Assemblyman Brian Jones, a Republican from the San Diego area, said: "That's an egregious abuse of taxpayer funds. This is taxpayer money that is supposed to go to teach kids, not buy houses."
| NEWS | Rules for Engagement
It appears the White House has heard the cries of some civil rights advocates who have argued that its My Brother's Keeper efforts focus too narrowly on boys of color, ignoring the often equally pressing challenges faced by black, Latina, and other minority girls.
The White House released a report last month called "Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity," which highlights what the administration says it has done to reduce barriers for everyone, including minority women and girls. The report mentions efforts related to equal pay, STEM education, teenage pregnancy, and sexual assault.
The White House Council on Women and Girls also launched a working group to address those issues.
The U.S. Department of Education, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Georgetown University also plan a January meeting to discuss women's and girls' access to opportunities in STEM and career and technical education.
What sparked the announcement, the White House didn't say, but it's reasonable to assume calls to broaden its focus to women and girls were a factor.
The My Brother's Keeper initiative has attracted philanthropic investments, commitments from school districts around the country, and a renewed focus on equity issues for young black and Latino males.
In June, a letter from more than 1,000 black and Latina women and girls asked why the effort targets only boys.
That was followed by a September report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Women's Law Center, which called attention to issues black girls face, including pregnancy discrimination in schools, overlapping stereotypes related to race and gender, and sexual assault.
| NEWS | Education and the Media
British comic John Oliver wrapped up the first season of his "Last Week Tonight" show on HBO recently with a look at state lotteries and whether they are fulfilling their promise of helping education. His verdict: They are not.
For the unfamiliar, the 37-year-old Oliver was a contributor to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and a fill-in for that show's host, Jon Stewart, last year. On his own hit show, Oliver explores some serious policy issues with wit and hijinks.
For example, to address the question of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to televise its arguments, the show assembled nine dogs of different breeds, dressed them in robes, and placed them on a courtroom set, then spliced the video with real audio from Supreme Court arguments.
For the lottery segment, Oliver discussed the 44 states with lotteries, which collected $68 billion in revenue in 2013. "For all the claims that lotteries are a huge boost to education, the reality is a little different," he said, showing an unidentified news clip suggesting that in 24 states with lotteries dedicated to education, 21 had not increased education spending.
He cited the North Carolina Education Lottery, started 10 years ago under then-Gov. Mike Easley, who said in a clip that it would lead to an increase of a half-billion dollars.
"Half a billion extra—that sounds great," Oliver said. "You'd think that by now, all North Carolina preschoolers would be strutting around in fine bespoke suits quoting Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. But in fact, North Carolina currently spends less per capita on education than it did when the lottery even began."
| NEWS | The School Law Blog
The U.S. Supreme Court will likely soon have a fresh opportunity to consider overruling a key precedent on service fees for workers who object to joining teachers’ unions or other public-employee labor organizations.
In a case known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers who object to paying agency fees to their local teachers’ union had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, to expedite a ruling against them so they could be on their way to the Supreme Court.
The teachers said only the Supreme Court can grant the relief they need, because only the justices can overrule the court’s 1977 precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which authorizes public-sector unions to charge agency fees to objectors for the costs of collective bargaining.
In a June 30 decision in Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court stopped short of overruling Abood when it held that a group of Medicaid home-health workers were really not government employees and could not be forced to pay agency fees to a union representing the majority of such workers in Illinois. Writing for a 5-4 majority in Harris, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. devoted some 12 pages of his opinion to undermining Abood, but concluded it wasn’t necessary to overrule the 1977 decision in the Illinois case.
In the recent California case, 10 nonunion teachers from several districts are challenging that state’s law authorizing teachers’ unions to charge agency fees to nonmembers. The teachers lost in a federal district court, and their appeal was pending in the 9th Circuit when the Harris decision came down. Their lawyers quickly filed a motion asking the appeals court to expedite a ruling against them, which the 9th Circuit issued Nov. 18.
| NEWS | Politics K-12
Rep. John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who’s skippered the Education and the Workforce Committee since 2011, has been named its chairman once again for the 114th Congress.
Under Rep. Kline’s stewardship during the 113th Congress, the committee has cleared a variety of education measures, including early education, K-12, and higher education bills. He ushered through the full House a Republican-backed update to the No Child Left Behind Act, a charter schools bill, a child-care-development bill and an education research bill—to name a few.
In an interview with Education Week after the Nov. 4 midterm election, Rep. Kline elaborated on priorities for the coming year. They include reauthorizing the NCLB law, (the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), updating the Higher Education Act, and rolling back the footprint of the federal government in K-12 education.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia will serve as the top Democrat on the House education committee when the new session of Congress starts in January. He’ll be taking over the slot held by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., an original author of the NCLB law, who is retiring this year.
Rep. Scott has long had an interest in K-12 education, with a focus on equity. He recently introduced legislation to officially authorize the Obama administration’s Promise Neighborhood program, which pairs K-12 schools with other supports, such as health and arts programs. In 2007, he wrote a bill that would have held states accountable for improving graduation rates, including for poor and minority students.
| NEWS | Politics K-12
Oklahoma is set to get back its waiver from the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced late last month, reversing the revocation of the state’s waiver earlier this year.
The state was the second to lose its NCLB waiver following Washington state. It is the first state to reclaim a lost waiver, now that it officially has a set of standards that match what the Education Department wants.
In June, Oklahoma decided to drop the Common Core State Standards in favor of the state’s previous content standards, the Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS. The plan was for Oklahoma to use PASS while it developed new content standards for the 2016-17 academic year.
Having “college- and career-ready” standards, whether they be common core or approved as such by states’ institutions of higher education, is a key hurdle for states to clear in order to receive an NCLB waiver. Since PASS didn’t meet those criteria, the Education Department pulled Oklahoma’s waiver in August.
But the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, in October, certified that the PASS standards would properly prepare students for college and careers, prompting the Oklahoma education department to reapply for its waiver.
Vol. 34, Issue 13, Pages 9,18