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“Private Schools, Please Be Wary of Vouchers”

Teacher/ columnist and education activist Donna Garner

(Donna Garner is a retired teacher with over thirty years experience in hte classroom and working in the public education sector. She is a friend of The Morning Zone on KGAB and now spends her time tracking the issues with education across the country and writing education based columns for various outlets across the couintry, incl;uding kgab.com)

by Donna Garner

8.29.12

My Challenge:  Please show me one lawsuit in the United States where a private school that took public dollars (e. g., vouchers, Taxpayer Savings Grants, etc.) was allowed to operate WITHOUT having to follow the federal (and/or state) education laws such as IDEA (i.e., Special Education), Section 504, Title I, etc.

Please show me one example where the courts have supported the right of a private school to operate independently from federal (and state) laws even though the private school has accepted federal dollars (and/or state dollars) through vouchers/Taxpayers’ Savings Grants.

Please show me one court case where a private school that has accepted vouchers/Taxpayers’ Savngs Grants has been free from administering the state-mandated assessments and/or the national assessments (Common Core Standards/Race to the Top).

If such a court case exists, then I might be convinced of the efficacy of private schools accepting public dollars.  Until such a court case is produced, I am strongly opposed to private schools giving up their independence for “thirty pieces of silver.” – Donna Garner

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Back in 5.19.11, I sent this out widely to every Texas legislator and policymaker I could find because Taxpayer Savings Grants were being debated.  I still stand by these comments.

The good thing is that we in Texas as of May 2012 have passed Type #1 curriculum standards and tests which will move our public schools out of Type #2 (the indoctrination of children’s minds) and into the laying out of knowledge-based, academic, measurable, explicit, and grade-level/course-level goals.

[To understand the differences between Type #1 and Type #2 Philosophies of Education, please read my 5.13.12 article entitled “Texans: Must Keep STAAR/End-of-Course Tests on Schedule” -- http://libertylinked.com/posts/9847/texans-must-keep-staarend-of/View.aspx -- Quote from this article: “Type #1’s end goal is academic achievement. Type #2’s end goal is the indoctrination and manipulation of students’ minds.”]

As our Texas public schools improve and as they do the job they are actually meant to do, parents will not feel so desperate to move their children out of them. However, parents still should have a choice as to how to educate their children. If parents want to send their children to private schools or homeschool them, that is their choice; but we must make sure the private schools/homeschools maintain their independence and are not tied to the federal government [or state government] in any way because of those infernal strings that always follow public dollars.

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Subject: MY OPINION ON TAXPAYER SAVINGS GRANTS — BY DONNA GARNER — 5.19.11

I cannot support the use of taxpayers’ dollars for use by students going to private schools (e.g., Taxpayer Savings Grants/vouchers) not because of the usual argument that “It would take taxpayers’ dollars away from public schools…” but because if a private school takes one penny of public dollars, then that school would fall under the federal and/or state regulations such as IDEA (Special Education) and Section 504. In fact, teachers can be sued individually if they do not follow the IDEA/Special Education laws to the letter.

Students in IDEA and/or Section 504 fall into many categories such as learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, oppositional defiant disorder, reading disabled, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD, ADD, speech impaired, post traumatic stress disorder, asthma, diabetes, bipolar disorder, and many other designations.

As the years have gone by since the inception of these IDEA/Section 504 laws, the number of students who have individual designations has increased exponentially until general education classrooms are full of students for whom the teacher is required to provide individual accommodations and/or modifications.

An accommodation is an adjustment to a teacher’s presentation so that the designated student learns the same material as the rest of the class but in a format that is accessible to the student based upon his or her identified need.  A modification changes or adapts the material to make it simpler.

It is the IDEA/Section 504 process that keeps teachers in the public schools from being able to hold students accountable for discipline and for academic standards. When the other students see certain students (IDEA or Section 504 designated students) not being held accountable for their classroom behavior, homework, attention to detail, testing standards, etc., then the entire classroom environment collapses.

By law, teachers are not allowed to let the students in the classroom know which of them has been labeled under a special designation. Therefore, when a designated student is allowed to sleep in class or be disrespectful to the teacher (…a part of his handicapping condition) and still passes the class, the other students think the teacher is to blame for showing partiality and by being unfair to the rest of the students who are required to meet a certain standard.

IDEA/Section 504 holds teachers back from helping designated students to learn self-control, personal responsibility, and a solid work ethic. IDEA/Section 504 students soon learn how to play the system.  Once that happens, they quit listening and participating in class, doing their homework, studying for tests, reading their books; and these “special” students learn to follow other self-destructive patterns.

The IDEA and Section 504 laws were originally written by Congress to hold schools accountable to guarantee each child equal opportunities for success. Now that has been completely twisted around. Schools have to guarantee each child equal outcomes.  In other words, if an IDEA student chooses to sleep in class, not do his homework, cuss the teacher, or throw a chair across the room, the law says the teachers must hold an ARD meeting.  At that meeting, the attendees figure out ways for the teacher to add more accommodations and/or modifications — not what the student can do to improve his behavior and work ethic.

The ARD changes the expectations for the teacher by lowering the expectations for the student. The teacher has to allow the student to receive passing grades by lowering the  reading level on the student’s materials/tests, by having someone read out loud the student’s books, by giving her fewer homework problems to do, by allowing someone else to write her papers for her, by giving her a set of notes without her having to write them, by giving her two questions on a test instead of ten, and other such accommodations and/or modifications. If her acting out in class is considered to be a “part of her handicapping condition,” then the teacher cannot hold the student responsible for that bad behavior.

I am not sure of the actual year when our public schools were forced into the new definitions of IDEA/Section 504, but it was probably around the early-to-mid 90’s). As a secondary classroom teacher, I saw many students quit doing their part to learn. Once they knew they could pass without having to live up to the expectations set for the rest of the classroom, the designated students fell into the self-destructive trap.

In private schools that accept no federal or state funding, teachers are free to work with students individually.  Yes, there are many “special” students going to these private schools; but their teachers are free to hold them to expectations that meet the child’s needs.  “Special” students in private schools know that they have to follow definite disciplinary and academic standards, or else they will be disciplined or expelled.

This means that parents of private school children are more dedicated to making sure their children study for tests, do their homework, and act right. There is no IDEA/Section 504 “escape route” that takes away a child’s right to fail!

With that IDEA escape route blocked in private schools, it is amazing how much better these designated students do. They find out that they can learn; they can do their homework; they can pass tests; they can behave according to teachers’ expectations.  The wonderful thing is that these “special” students begin to raise their academic achievement through hard work and improved behavior; success breeds success. Pretty soon they find themselves rising above their at-risk problems, and most of these students go on to achieve great academic and personal success.

Not only are the ”special” students blessed, but the classroom environment is not ruined for the other students.  Everyone is held to a higher standard; everyone must behave, do his homework, and accept responsibility for his own actions. No one is allowed to pass to the next grade without demonstrating effort, self-discipline, and personal responsibility.

I speak from experience.  I taught in the public schools for twenty-seven years and for four years in private schools.  Most of the teachers who leave the public schools do so because they are frustrated by the IDEA/Section 504 laws that kept them from doing what was best for their students. Teachers take a severe pay cut to teach in most private schools; but the cuts are worth it to be able to teach in an environment where there is discipline, fairness, and personal responsibility on the part of students, teachers, and parents.

One penny of state or federal money will destroy the private-school environment and will put the school under the control of the federal and/or state government.

I am also afraid that if a private school takes one penny of public dollars, that school would be required to have to follow the public schools’ curriculum, assessments, and accountability system.  The reason parents put their children in a private school is because that private school can groom its curriculum and tests around the values of that particular school.

I am afraid the Taxpayer Savings Grants (e.g., vouchers) would end up destroying the freedom that private schools enjoy. With the Obama administration taking over the public schools through Common Core Standards (CCS) and Race to the Top (RTTT), the idea of tying private schools to that federal agenda becomes all that much more frightening.

To learn more about “Obama’s Latest Work Around,” by Donna Garner – 5.22.12, please go to:  http://libertylinked.com/posts/9871/obamas-latest-work-around—/View.aspx

I realize that Gov. Perry and Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said that Texas would not participate in CCS, but now Obama in his FY 2012 budget is giving the CCS/RTTT II funds directly to school districts.  Commissioner Scott and others [Please see update below] are attempting to get the Texas Legislature to pass HB 2923 to protect Texas public schools from being lured into the carrot-and-stick CCS/RTTT federal funds, but HB 2923 has not been passed yet.

HB 2923 makes it very clear that to be accredited, Texas public schools must follow the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  HB 2923 also makes sure that by law, Texas would not participate in the national database.

[Update as of 8.25.12:  HB 2923 was authored by Rep. Dan Huberty. In the 82nd Legislative Session, HB 2923 finally got out of the State Sovereignty Committee but died in Calendars.  Since then, the Obama administration including the USDOE, have decided to allow federal money to flow directly to local public schools without having to pass through the state education agencies, making it possible for the local school districts to apply for Race to the Top (RTTT) grants. The big problem is that local public schools which receive the RTTT funds will have to follow the Common Core Standards (and the Common Core Standards Initiative) which are meant to indoctrinate students into Obama’s social justice agenda.]

To read more details about the dangers of Common Core Standards/Race to the Top, please go to these links:

8.5.12 – “Caring Parents, Where Are You?” – by Donna Garner — http://libertylinked.com/posts/10007/caring-parents-where-are/View.aspx

2.24.11 — “Let’s Get Off the National Standards Train” by Henry W. Burke and Donna Garner – Several professors at the University of Texas chose to publish our article on their site to show the conservative side.  Please scroll a little over half the way down the website page to the spot where our article begins – “Let’s Get Off the …” —  http://texasedequity.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html

Private schools should not want to be tied in any way to the public schools’ curriculum requirements, assessments, and/or IDEA/Section 504 regulations.  Private schools need to be kept “private” which means that their teachers and boards of trustees should decide what their students are to be taught and at what grade level.

Donna Garner

Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

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To read more about the Texas Senate Committee meeting (8.24.12) on private school vouchers and charters, please go to the following links:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20120823-senate-committee-delves-into-private-school-vouchers.ece

http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-politics/charter-school-supporters-debate-adding-charters-accountability-2441847.html

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