The “Yes, Mom, It’s True” Category Is Growing to Define the Time We Live In Now

Good day, CharterFolk.

I lead off today admitting that I’m improvising a bit.

Last Sunday I said I had a particular topic I wanted to take on next regarding the imperative to build additional advocacy strength in “the time beyond the beginning.”

To clarify, this is not that piece.

That one will take more time and I want to be sure I get it right.

Meanwhile, there are a number of other developments that I have been wanting to get to since returning from the Camino, and there are a few others that came up anew last week. So I’m spending today’s post on those matters.

Lastly, I know this post is getting out to you late. A combination of day-job responsibilities and extensive travel have put me behind. So I couldn’t get this done in time to publish this weekend. I appreciate your understanding.

Let’s get on to today’s post.

The “Yes, Mom, It’s True” Category Is Growing to Define the Time We Live In Now

I start today with this good news out of Los Angeles.

It’s an update to a development we’ve been tracking for almost two years.

A hundred weeks ago, I described the situation as one that is in the …

… “Yes, Mom, it’s true” category.

As unbelievable as it is, Mom, yes, school districts will withhold millions of dollars from other schools serving thousands of low-income students, even when they’re told by their state not to. And yes, Mom, people responsible for serving those kids and families who are being shortchanged end up having no choice but to do things like file lawsuits.

This is what happens when money intended for all kids passes through school districts who only serve some kids. They make sure that resources end up coming to their own kids at the expense of other kids. Things get particularly bad when school districts are so badly managed financially that they’ll do anything to push off their impending financial implosion. They end up resorting to actions that fail the common decency test, or the “have you no values” test, like denying tens of millions of dollars to low-income kids and families.

It’s sad but true, Mom.

Even when you sue …

… resulting in a state investigation that confirms your claims …

… such that the district superintendent commits to do something to address the situation …

… still the school district appeals, drawing out the process another 18 months, adding massively to all parties’ legal bills, and extending the time when students in need are deprived access to the resources they are entitled to.

Over the weekend, long-time CharterFolk and current Los Angeles Archdiocese Superintendent, Paul Escala, wrote me:

A long, hard fought win, Jed. LAUSD is unabashedly cruel. We’ve got them dead to rights on this one. Now the hard part, getting them to comply with the findings!

Readers may remember that Paul and another long-time CharterFolk, Chicago Archdiocese Superintendent, Greg Richmond, co-authored a Contributor Column a little over a year ago …

… explaining how Catholic schools had become a rare bright spot of student learning through the pandemic.

Of course, in Chicago, Catholic schools are now facing their own money grab from the Establishment …

… as the state sunsets its Invest in Kids private scholarship program.

It’s a decision that could result in many schools in the Chicago Archdiocese having to close, leaving thousands of families without an educational option they consider acceptable.

Amazingly, in the “Yes, it’s true, Mom” category, some of the people who are most celebrating the end of the program …

… themselves send their kids to Catholic schools, with the bitterest irony being that one of the very most prominent celebrants …

… clearly has the means to pay her kid’s Catholic school tuition, while the vast majority of those who lament …

… absolutely do not.

It’s a reality our world has yet to get its bearings on.

Yes, of course, there is always a brutishness and callousness to the Establishment’s drive to claim all resources connected to public education.

But then there are the times when desperation gets added in – an urgency built of an awareness that the Establishment has perched itself on the edge of a financial chasm.

In those moments, the Establishment’s defense of itself tips into “Yes, Mom, It’s true” territory.

A time when the Establishment has absolutely no principle, or even common decency, guiding its claim to public resources.

A time when it certainly has no consideration for the fact that other schools are providing better services to students and families than the Establishment itself is offering.

All that matters is the money.

They want as much for themselves as they can possibly get, and as little for other parties, regardless the pain and/or challenge it may impose on others.

Or in some cases, because of the pain and challenge it imposes on others.

My sense is that we are heading now into a “Yes, Mom, it’s true” moment for great swaths of public education in our country.

Ample evidence of Establishment desperation populates the landscape.

Like Establishment interests in DC this year jamming through a massive increase in funding to district schools so they could give teachers raises ……

… and then turning around and denying those same funds to charter schools …

… a denial of funding that, through effective advocacy …

… we’ve at least partially been able to mitigate …

… but whose impact is just now being felt, with charter schools having experienced more faculty turnover this summer than district schools.

But here’s the thing to not lose track of:

Of course, there was going to be higher teacher turnover in DC charter schools this fall than in traditional public schools. That’s what the new funding disparity between the district and charter schools was designed to achieve in the first place.

If you give one group of schools a massive amount of new money to incent existing teachers to stay in their jobs, and to attract other new teachers, and then you deny a whole other class of public schools in that same city access to those same funds, of course, the one you throw gobs of money at is going to see higher teacher retention, and the other is going to see higher teacher loss.

It’s just a logical extension of the “Yes, Mom” realities at play in Washington.

Which are very much like the ones we see in Texas.

Last spring, a Houston-area school district announced it is facing a $35 million dollar shortfall.

Of all the programs that you might think the district would propose to cut, what do you think came first?

Yes, Mom.

The funds the district provides KIPP and Yes Prep to operate two of the district’s schools, never mind that the charter operators have parents who desperately want to keep their kids enrolled in the better programs the charter schools offer.

Or the new attention that is arising in Baltimore about the scope of the funding cliff the district faces.

It puts in repose the district’s “it’s true” swiping of money from charter schools we saw this spring …

… doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, ample additional evidence …

… of districts encountering increased fiscal distress …

… is beginning to surface now …

… in places across the country.

Ground-Shifting or Ground-Hogging?

It makes it natural that many are beginning to wonder whether school districts’ current circumstance represents just another of many such predicaments public education has cycled through over the course of decades, or whether, in fact, something seismic is occurring with the potential to set public education on a fundamentally different trajectory.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

Some of the smartest people I know in the education space seem to be coming to different conclusions.

When long-time Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum recently moved to begin reporting for the Journal …

… the very first issue he decided to bring to his new readers’ attention …

… was the scope of public education’s impending fiscal cliff, seeming to affirm a view that the situation could prove ground-shifting for public education.

Nearly simultaneously, another education writer I greatly respect, Mike Antonucci, announced his retirement from The 74 …

… and chose to use one of his last articles …

… to write about public education approaching just another boom and bust cycle in budgeting and staffing.

So obviously, there are a lot of smart ways to think about this situation.

But forced to choose between one camp positing potentially “ground-breaking” change versus another camp asserting “ground-hogging” stasis, I would have to side with the seismic crowd.

Because it seems to me that there are many conditions that make this moment unique.

Part of it is the sheer volume of the resources that have been pushed through public education and that are not being continued.

Public education has never before seen a punchbowl of this dimension pulled away from its garden party.

“This is the biggest one-time infusion of federal dollars ever to come to schools,” says Phyllis Jordan, the associate director of FutureEd, an education-policy think tank.

Not only are the feds cutting back their funding, but some states are now projecting shortfalls within their own budgets of gargantuan proportion.

And the scale of public education’s mismanagement of its historical finances creates a cumulative impact further undermining its ability to weather this moment.

Is there any wonder we continue to see turnover in the top leadership of school districts …

… unlike anything we’ve seen before?

Never mind contentious social issues. Who wants to be the lead executive having to steer through such a fiscal mess?

It leaves school districts across the country bereft of experienced leadership at precisely the moment they need it most.

These are the kinds of the developments I thought would emerge when I wrote …

… about the danger of entrusting to entities with such miscast needs hierarchies …

… stewardship over such unprecedented levels of resources …

… which I feared could put the viability of the entire enterprise at risk.

Sadly, I stand by that assessment.

But what I hadn’t thought through entirely when I wrote that piece was the degree to which the impending instability would create a “Yes, Mom, It’s True” moment in public education.

One that will be fraught for charter schools, as witnessed by the examples I cite above, which should, I hope, put proper focus in our minds about the scope of advocacy strength we will need to navigate the moment well.

But one, also, that is revealing two new fundamental realities that are growing to define the time we live in now.

Namely, that:

“Yes, Mom.”

A moment of massive change is coming to our nation’s public schools.

And that:

“It’s True.”

As that happens, the charter school world will be asked to take on greater responsibility than it ever has before.